Mom of missing Ariz. baby wants charges dropped
PHOENIX — The mother of an Arizona baby missing for more than two years wants a felony child abuse charge against her dropped before her trial begins in September.
Elizabeth Johnson appeared in a downtown Phoenix court on Tuesday, shackled at the wrists and ankles and wearing a black-and-white jail uniform, her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.
The 25-year-old’s attorney, Marc Victor, is seeking to get a child abuse charge against her dismissed, saying that there’s no proof of child abuse, and even if Johnson’s son, baby Gabriel, was abused, it would have happened in Texas. The boy was 8 months old when he disappeared in December 2009, and he was last seen in San Antonio.
The trial is set to begin Sept. 4 with jury selection that could take up to a week or longer because of the high-profile nature of the case.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty to child abuse, kidnapping, custodial interference and attempted custodial interference stemming from the disappearance of Gabriel.
Johnson told the boy’s father, Logan McQueary, that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin in the central Texas city. She later recanted and told police that she gave the baby to a couple at a park in San Antonio, but never provided names.
Gabriel has never been found and police still do not know whether he is alive. Police unsuccessfully search a landfill for his body.
On Tuesday, Victor called Johnson’s statements about killing the boy “off-handed” and said she has more consistently maintained that she gave the boy to a couple she didn’t know.
Investigators said that 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 had been fighting with McQueary about whether to give the boy up for adoption. Johnson had signed over temporary guardianship to Tammi and Jack Smith of Scottsdale for about 10 days before she picked him up and left Arizona.
McQueary called police after he found Johnson’s Tempe trailer empty. He is not suspected in the baby’s disappearance.
Tammi Smith was convicted last month of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference and faces between one and seven and a half years in prison when she is sentenced on Friday.
Authorities say that Smith forged her cousin’s name on a document challenging whether McQueary was Gabriel’s father, and conspired with Johnson to deprive McQueary of his paternal rights.
Johnson is not expected to attend her next court date, set for July 17. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer wants San Antonio police to attend the hearing and agree to provide attorneys on both sides with reports from their investigation.
If the department declines, Victor said he plans on seeking an order compelling them to turn over the records. A potential fight could lead to a delay in the trial.
“No one here in Arizona has ever received those reports,” he said. “That could turn into an interesting issue. I don’t know if they’re going to cough it up.”
AMANDA LEE MYERS
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