A Maricopa County Superior Court judge delayed setting a trial date for the Tempe mother of a missing boy and the woman who wanted to adopt him.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie on Monday scheduled a hearing for Oct. 25 to set a trial date for Elizabeth Johnson and Tammi Peters Smith, who have been at the center of a story that has received national attention involving Gabriel Johnson, who was 8 months old when he was last seen Dec. 26 in San Antonio.
On Friday, Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Steve Holding upheld the determination of two court-appointed doctors that Johnson’s mental state has been restored and she is competent to stand trial. Johnson, 24, had been deemed incompetent and unable to assist her attorneys with her defense in June, but two court-appointed doctors then deemed her mental state is restorable with medication and counseling.
Johnson, who appeared in court on Monday looking tired and sometimes glancing at her grandfather, Robert Johnson, is being held in Maricopa County’s Estrella jail on a $1.1 million cash bond. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, child abuse, and custodial interference.
In the midst of a custody battle with her estranged boyfriend and father of Gabriel, Logan McQueary of Gilbert, Johnson left for San Antonio with the baby in mid-December. She has both said she killed Gabriel, stuffed his body in a diaper bag and threw it in a trash bin. She also told authorities she gave the boy to a couple at a motel in San Antonio a day after meeting them in a park there.
Police say they don’t know where the boy is or whether he’s alive, and Johnson has refused to cooperate with their investigation. The case still is being investigated as both a homicide and a missing persons case in San Antonio, but detectives there have said they would not press any homicide-related charges until a body is found.
Smith, 38, of Scottsdale, has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. She did not appear in court on Monday and is free on a $15,000 bond.
Robert Johnson, who on Monday saw his granddaughter for the first time in two months, said after the hearing that his granddaughter looked “very tired and stoic.”
“It’s wearing down on her,” Johnson said. “It would be in her best interests to say what she did with the baby. It’s not complicated — help them find Gabriel and get out of here.”
But he said he believes Gabriel is still alive based on what everyone he has heard from those close to the case.
Johnson’s attorneys, Nicholas Alcock and Adam Feldman, said Monday that they supported the extra time before a trial date is set so they could consider a plea deal, if one is offered.
McQueary, who was in court with his father and other family members on Monday, said he wanted a trial date to be set on Monday, but plans to write a letter to the judge protesting a motion made by Johnson’s attorneys seeking a bond modification for her to get it lowered. He said the ordeal has caused grief to him and his whole family.
“Right now, it’s pretty much a waiting game,” McQueary said. “I don’t think Elizabeth is incapable of understanding what is going on, I just think she chooses not to participate in any of this. I still believe Gabriel is out there, it’s just a matter of getting a good lead and tracking him down.
“I don’t support her bond being lowered at all,” he added. “I don’t think it would be fair for Elizabeth to get out and go off and live her life while we’re still looking for Gabriel. I think she’s a flight risk, and I think she could take off and we’d be looking for both her and Gabriel. She’s a key person in all of this — she’s the only one who knows what’s happened.”