Baby Gabriel case: Mom released from prison

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by Catherine Holland and The Associated Press

Video reports by Ryan O'Donnell and Jared Dillingham

Posted on July 10, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 14 at 8:43 AM

PHOENIX -- The mother of a little boy who has been missing since December 2009 was released from Perryville Prison at 12:04 a.m. Friday.

Convicted of custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment, Elizabeth Johnson was sentenced in December 2012 to 5 1/4 years in prison with credit for the nearly three years she spent in jail.

Johnson also was charged with kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of her son, Gabriel, but a jury could not reach a verdict on that count.

The last time anybody saw Gabriel was the day after Christmas in 2009 and he was 8 months old.

Johnson said she gave him to a Texas couple so that he could have "a life that was better than I had growing up."

"What I have done is unbelievable," she told the judge at her sentencing hearing. "There's not really anything I can say for myself."

Johnson's attorney, Marc Victor, believes his client has matured and grown in prison.

"Justice was served here.  She was convicted of the crimes she actually committed, and the judge gave her a tough sentence," Victor told 3TV.

"If you ask Elizabeth where Gabriel is, she has no idea. Last time she saw him, she handed him to a couple she believed would do a good job raising him," he added.

Victor says he and his client have discussed the possibility of her going to Texas to find the couple she says she gave Gabriel to, but he does not believe such a search would be fruitful.

"For starters, there's no reason to think he's in San Antonio. Elizabeth doesn't know where he is.  He could be anywhere, even out of the country.  She cares most that he's with a family who  loves him and is taking good care of him," he said.

Authorities said Johnson took the child from their Tempe home and initially told his father, Logan McQueary, that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin, but she later recanted and told police she gave the infant to a couple at a San Antonio, Texas, park. She never provided the couple's names and despite extensive searches of landfills in San Antonio, Gabriel has never been found. The little boy would have turned 5 in April.

Prosecutors say Johnson ran off to Texas with the child as a way to retaliate against his father for ending their tumultuous relationship. The father isn't suspected in the child's disappearance.

Police arrested Johnson in Florida on Dec. 30, 2009, just four days after he was last seen in San Antonio.

Johnson had been fighting with the boy's father about whether to give up Gabriel for adoption. She signed over temporary guardianship of the boy to a Scottsdale couple for about 10 days before she picked him up and left Arizona.

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.

According to records from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Johnson had two disciplinary infractions during her time in prison -- one having to do with contraband and the other described as "misuse of mail." Both were considered minor.

Johnson, who turns 28 this month, will be on probation for four years.

Attorney Marc Victor would not say where she will live, or who she will live with.   Johnson's grandfather, who supported her through much of her court process, died  earlier this summer.

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