An Arizona woman charged in the disappearance of her infant son more than two years ago was consumed with anger over the demise of her romantic ties with his father and used the boy as a pawn in their disputes, a prosecutor said Tuesday in closing arguments at the woman’s trial.
Elizabeth Johnson ran off to another state with the child as a way to retaliate against his father, Logan McQueary, for ending their tumultuous relationship, prosecutor Angela Andrews said.
“She wants to get back at Logan, and she is upset, and she uses the one thing that would hurt Logan more than anything,” Andrews said.
Johnson, 26, has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial inference in the December 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son, Gabriel. She faces up to 27 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Johnson sobbed as the prosecutor recounted McQueary calling her to say he loved her but had to spend time away from her so she could get her life back and get some peace.
Defense attorney Marc Victor told jurors they probably were angry at Johnson but shouldn’t be swayed by their emotions.
“This is not a case about whether or not you like Elizabeth Johnson,” said Victor, who called no witnesses on behalf of his client at the trial.
Victor said the jury likely would convict Johnson on the custodial interference charge because she violated a judge’s custody order. But he said prosecutors failed to prove their case on the other two charges.
Victor described Johnson as an unsophisticated single mother who was under a lot of stress, was in a volatile relationship with the boy’s father, and was being manipulated by a woman who wanted to adopt Gabriel.
“Does she wish she had a redo?” Victor said. “Absolutely.”
Authorities say 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. But authorities say Johnson later recanted and told police she gave the baby to a couple at a San Antonio park. She never provided the couple’s names.
Gabriel’s 3rd birthday was in April, but police don’t know if he’s alive. They searched a landfill and found no body.
Johnson initially was found mentally unfit to stand trial but later was deemed psychologically ready.
Investigators said Johnson brought the child from Tempe to Texas, stayed for a week and then took a bus to Florida without him.
She had been fighting with McQueary about whether to put Gabriel up for adoption. Johnson signed over temporary guardianship to a Scottsdale couple for about 10 days before she picked up the boy and left Arizona. McQueary opposed putting the baby up for adoption.
The would-be adoptive mother from Scottsdale, Tammi Peters Smith, was accused of lying on a court document about the child’s possible paternity in an effort to keep Gabriel from his father. Smith was convicted of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
McQueary isn’t suspected in the child’s disappearance.
The trial for the mother charged with kidnapping in her son’s disappearance almost three years ago is scheduled to resume at 10:30 a.m. today in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Elizabeth Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, custodial interference and conspiracy in the December 2009 disappearance of baby Gabriel Johnson, who was 8 months old when he was last seen.
Johnson’s attorney, Marc Victor, has not scheduled any witnesses for Tuesday and is not expected to call Johnson to the stand in her own defense. Victor has maintained the state has not proven its case that Johnson’s testimony is not needed.
With the jury off Monday morning, Elizabeth Johnson’s attorney, Marc Victor, made his appeal to drop the kidnapping charge against her.
He argued that two factors that must be proved in a kidnapping case don’t apply to the mother of missing Baby Gabriel. First, the state has to prove she restrained the baby by keeping him away from his father, Logan McQueary. Johnson’s attorney used texts from Johnson saying she killed Gabriel to bolster his argument.
“I think, by the way, there is evidence to the contrary of this, but imagine she actually did kill the baby. There’s no kidnapping at that point, Judge,” Victor said. “You can’t have a kidnapping of a dead person.”
Second, the state would have to prove that Johnson wanted to scare McQueary into thinking there was an imminent threat to Gabriel’s physical safety.
“So, when she very clearly says, ‘I killed him,’ that could mean that she was intending to say, ‘I’m planning to kill him in the future?’ It doesn’t make sense Judge!” Victor said. “It’s English!”
The judge disagreed. So did the attorneys for the state, arguing they had enough to prosecute for kidnapping.
“Whether she killed him or whether she gave him away to another couple, she did it without the father’s consent,” Elisa Ramunno said. “That was restraint within the meaning of the statute.”
State’s attorneys cited other cases supporting their argument. The judge said he’ll study it all before making his decision before the start of court on Tuesday.