Prosecutors: Would-be adoptive mom “Obsessed”
PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday painted the would-be adoptive mother of an Arizona baby missing for more than two years as an “obsessed” woman who would stop at nothing to win custody of the boy, while defense attorneys said she was just looking out for the child and his mother.
The attorneys spoke during opening statements in Phoenix on Tuesday in the trial of 40-year-old Tammi Peters Smith, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in the case of missing baby Gabriel, who was 8 months old when he was last seen in December 2009 in San Antonio, Texas.
Gabriel’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, has said she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin 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 is alive.
Smith is charged in the case for her involvement with Johnson and stands accused of lying on a court document about the possible paternity of the baby and trying to keep Gabriel away from his father, Logan McQueary, who is set to testify against Smith later Tuesday.
“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.
She said that Smith’s initial plan with Johnson was to make life so difficult for McQueary that he would eventually get fed up and agree to give the baby to Smith and her husband, Jack. When that wasn’t working, Ramunno told jurors that Smith and Johnson planned to have Smith take Gabriel out of the state in an effort force McQueary to sign adoption paperwork.
That also did not work.
Defense attorney Anne Phillips said Smith wasn’t obsessed with adopting Gabriel but that she wanted him so her other adoptive child could have a younger sibling.
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.
Phillips also said Smith has a constitutional right not to testify during her trial, but she has decided to take the stand.
“She wants to look you in the eye and she wants to answer your questions directly,” Phillips said. “We are confident you will find she did nothing wrong. All she wanted was to bring Gabriel home.”
Meanwhile, Johnson’s trial on charges of child abuse, kidnapping and custodial interference is set to begin in September. She has pleaded not guilty.
Investigators said Johnson drove the boy to San Antonio from Tempe, Ariz., in December 2009, stayed about a week then took a bus to Florida without him. She was arrested Dec. 30, 2009, in Florida and returned to Arizona.
McQueary, whom detectives do not suspect in the boy’s disappearance, was in court himself on Monday in a separate case. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of theft and was sentenced to a year of probation in proceedings that were expedited so that he could testify against Smith.
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