Opening statements set for Baby Gabriel trial
PHOENIX — Lawyers are set to make opening arguments Thursday at a trial for an Arizona woman charged in the disappearance of her baby more than two years ago.
Elizabeth Johnson, 26, faces charges of kidnapping, custodial interference and attempted custodial inference in the December 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son, Gabriel. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to authorities, Johnson told the boy’s father that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin in San Antonio, Texas, the city where the child was last seen. She later recanted and told police that she gave the baby to a couple at a San Antonio park, but she never provided names.
Gabriel’s third birthday was in April, but police don’t know if the boy is still alive. They searched a landfill, but no body was found.
Earlier in the case, Johnson was found mentally unfit to stand trial, but she has since been deemed psychologically ready.
Investigators said Johnson brought the child from Tempe to Texas, stayed for a week and then book a bus to Florida without him.
She had been fighting with the child’s biological father about whether to put Gabriel up for adoption. She signed over temporary guardianship to a Scottsdale couple for about 10 days before she picked up the boy and left Arizona.
The would-be adoptive mother from Scottsdale, Tammi Peters Smith, was accused of lying on a court document about the possible paternity of the baby in an effort to keep Gabriel from his father. Smith was convicted of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
The child’s father, Logan McQueary, isn’t suspected in the child’s disappearance.
A judge has ruled that jurors at Johnson’s trial won’t hear a statement in which authorities say Johnson told a police detective that she killed the boy. The judge said Johnson’s rights were violated when a San Antonio detective interviewed her at a Phoenix jail without her attorneys being there or even knowing about the interview.
But Johnson’s statement to McQueary can be used at her trial. McQueary has said he got two text messages from Johnson while she was in Texas — the first saying simply “I killed him,” and the second saying she had killed the child, put him in a diaper bag and threw him in a trash bin.
Johnson previously was charged with child abuse, but that charge was dismissed this summer at the request of prosecutors.
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