The trial for the Tempe mother of missing ‘Baby Gabriel’ is set to begin in less than a week.
But Gabriel, if he is still alive, is no longer a baby. The boy who was 8 months old when he disappeared with his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, in December 2009, would be slightly more than 3 years old today.
At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4 in Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer’s courtroom, the trial for Johnson 26, is set to begin on charges of kidnapping and custodial interference, a case that received national attention for most of 2010. Jury selection is set to begin on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
While in San Antonio in late December 2009, Johnson initially told her estranged boyfriend, Logan McQueary of Gilbert, that she killed his son and threw his body in a trash bin. She later told authorities that she gave the boy to a couple she did not know. Johnson then hopped a bus to Florida to meet her grandmother who was moving from Boston to Florida after buying a home in the Tampa area, according to court documents.
Last month at the request of the defense, the judge agreed to dismiss the charge of child abuse levied against Johnson, based on the unlikelihood that she would be convicted for it. That charge stemmed from photographs of the boy discovered on her camera that she had taken of him inside a San Antonio motel where Gabriel was last seen alive. The pictures, which were released by Tempe police in early 2010, showed a droopy-eyed and groggy-looking Gabriel lying next to a bottle of sleeping medication.
McQueary’s family members believe that they never will see Gabriel again.
Since her arrest, Johnson has been held in a Maricopa County jail without bond and throughout the course of court proceedings, she has twice been deemed incompetent to stand trial. But doctors say she is now competent.
Authorities do not know whether Gabriel is alive. Nothing was found during a landfill search in San Antonio for his remains in 2010.
Marc Victor, the attorney representing Johnson, said on Tuesday that Johnson is looking forward to getting the trial started after all this time.
“I, the judge and the prosecution are all working together,” Victor said. “We’re all doing everything we can to ensure she gets a fair trial and that all the evidence is presented. The elements we are focusing on are the remaining charges against her.”
Tammi Peters Smith, the Scottsdale woman who was trying to adopt Gabriel, was sentenced in July to 30 days in jail and three years probation on charges of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Prosecutors painted Smith, 40, as an “obsessed” woman who would stop at nothing to win custody of the boy. Defense attorneys said she was just looking out for the child and his mother.
Johnson’s grandfather, Robert Johnson, of Scottsdale, told the Tribune on Monday that he does not plan to attend the trial and still speaks to Elizabeth about twice a week.
“It’s too boring,” Johnson said. “I’ll just watch it on TV. These people aren’t Perry Mason types where it’s all scripted. There’s too much hemming and hawing.”
When Johnson’s grandmother, Sylvia Puckett, was contacted by phone on Monday, she said, “I have nothing to say,” and hung up.
Victor said that the whereabouts of Baby Gabriel will not be addressed at the trial.
“The status of the baby will not be a question that is answered,” Victor said. “That is not an issue at this trial.”
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