Claims of missing Arizona baby’s mom played in court
PHOENIX (AP) — Jurors in the trial of a would-be adoptive mother of an Arizona baby missing for more than two years heard a secretly recorded phone call Wednesday of the boy’s biological mother saying she suffocated him and he turned blue.
In the recording, 25-year-old old Elizabeth Johnson is heard telling her on-and-off-again boyfriend and her baby’s father, Logan McQueary, that she killed the child, put his body in a bag, and threw him in a trash can in San Antonio, Texas.
“I suffocated him and he turned blue,” Johnson is heard saying on the tape. “That’s when I put him in the bag and put him in the trash.”
McQueary wiped away tears as the phone conversation that he secretly recorded on Dec. 27, 2009, was played for jurors in the Phoenix trial of 40-year-old Tammi Peters Smith of Scottsdale, who was trying to adopt baby Gabriel before Johnson took him to Texas.
Smith has pleaded not guilty to forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. She is accused of lying on a court document about the possible paternity of the baby in an effort to keep Gabriel away from McQueary, who testified against Smith on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile Johnson remained jailed awaiting her own September trial on charges of child abuse, kidnapping and custodial interference.
She had previously been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, but has since been restored to competency. She has pleaded not guilty.
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors painted Smith as an “obsessed” woman who would stop at nothing to win custody of the boy, saying that while waiting to hear whether she could adopt Gabriel, she also approached another couple in line at a Jack in the Box and offered to adopt their baby.
“To the defendant, Gabriel Johnson was a thing to be desired — a prize, an object. She wanted a baby and she would go to any length to get one,” prosecutor Elisa Ramunno told jurors.
Smith offered to adopt Gabriel from Johnson in June 2009 when the two met during a long layover in Boston’s airport. Johnson didn’t decide to take her up on it until six months later, the same month he disappeared.
Johnson signed over temporary guardianship of Gabriel to Smith and her husband for about 10 days before she picked him up and left Arizona. McQueary, who said he never wanted to give the boy up, called police when it was his turn to take Gabriel and he found Johnson’s Tempe trailer empty, with no sign of either of them.
Investigators said Johnson drove the boy to San Antonio, stayed about a week, and then took a bus to Florida without him. She was arrested Dec. 30, 2009, in Florida and returned to Arizona.
Ramunno told jurors that taking Gabriel out of Arizona was a plan by Smith and Johnson to force McQueary to sign adoption papers.
Johnson told McQueary and a detective that she killed Gabriel but later recanted and said she gave the baby to a couple in San Antonio.
Gabriel has never been found and police still don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. He would have turned 3 years old this month.
Smith’s defense attorney said her client is a hard-working mother and upstanding member of the community who was just trying to help a troubled Johnson and her baby.
She said that after Johnson took Gabriel to Texas, Smith did nothing but try her best to bring Gabriel home safely and that all she got in return was “character assassination” by police and FBI agents intent on bringing charges against her.
Smith plans to address jurors herself during the trial, expected to last through mid-May.
By AMANDA LEE MYERS
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