The would-be adoptive mother of an Arizona baby missing for more than two years was convicted Thursday of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Tammi Peters Smith was convicted on felonies that each carry a sentencing range of 1 to 3.75 years. Her eligibility for probation would be determined at a hearing before sentencing on July 6.
Prosecutors had painted Smith, 40, as an “obsessed” woman who would stop at nothing to win custody of the boy named Gabriel. Defense attorneys said she was just looking out for the child and his mother.
Gabriel was 8 months old when he was last seen in December 2009 in San Antonio, Texas. The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, has said she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin, but later recanted and said she gave the baby to a couple in San Antonio.
Gabriel has never been found and police do not know whether he is alive.
Smith had been seeking to adopt Gabriel before Johnson left Arizona with him. The Scottsdale woman was accused of lying on a court document about the possible paternity of the baby in an effort to keep Gabriel away from his father, Logan McQueary, who testified against Smith.
Johnson, 25, signed over temporary guardianship of Gabriel to Smith and her husband for about 10 days before she picked him up and left Arizona. McQueary, 27, called police after he found Johnson’s Tempe trailer empty.
Authorities say Smith forged her cousin’s name on a document challenging whether McQueary was Gabriel’s father, and conspired with the baby’s mother to deprive McQueary of his paternal rights.
Investigators said Johnson drove the boy to San Antonio from Tempe, Ariz., stayed about a week then took a bus to Florida without him. She was arrested on Dec. 30, 2009, in Florida and returned to Arizona.
Johnson’s trial on charges of child abuse, kidnapping and custodial interference is set to begin in September. She had previously been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, but has since been restored to competency.
Police don’t suspect McQueary in the boy’s disappearance.
A Maricopa County Superior Court jury also considered aggravated factors that could draw a harsher penalty for Smith. They found aggravators — that the crimes caused emotional harm and an accomplice was involved — that will be considered at her sentencing.