Trial of Baby Gabriel's mom to start in 2 weeks

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 4 at 1:03 PM

PHOENIX -- After months of delays and legal wrangling, the trial of the Tempe mom accused of kidnapping her baby son will soon begin.

Elizabeth Johnson, 26, is accused of kidnapping her son, Gabriel, just before Christmas almost three years ago. She was arrested in Florida, but Gabriel, who was 8 months old at the time, was never seen again.

At first, Johnson told Gabriel's father that she had killed the baby and dumped his body in the trash. She later changed her story, saying she gave Gabriel to a couple in San Antonio.

The last time Gabriel was seen alive was in a San Antonio hotel room a couple of days after Christmas 2009.

A massive multi-state search for the baby turned up nothing. Police have no idea if he's alive.

Johnson, who has been held without bond since her arrest in January 2010, is charged with kidnapping and custodial interference. She was originally charged with child abuse, as well, but a judge dismissed that count in July.

When Johnson was arrested, she was found mentally unfit to stand trial. In December, a doctor said Johnson had been restored to competency and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie agreed.

At that time, however, Johnson did not have a lawyer to represent her. At the hearing in which Johnson was declared competent to stand trial, her lawyers asked to be removed from the case, saying the relationship with their client was "broken." Johnson agreed with her lawyers' assessment.

Boston native Marc J. Victor eventually took on the case.

Speaking with 3TV's Mike Watkiss in May, Victor said Johnson insists that she did not kill Gabriel despite what she said after his disappearance.

In July, Tammi Smith, the woman who was "desperate" to adopt Gabriel, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of supervised probation after being convicted on charges of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. Smith was released from jail on Aug. 4.

Johnson has signed over temporary guardianship of Gabriel to Smith and her husband just days before taking the baby to Texas, the last place he was seen alive.

Tuesday is the final pre-trial hearing for Johnson before jury selection gets under way. Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 19.

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