Johnson's emotional outburst stunned courtroom in Baby Gabriel case

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Elizabeth Johnson in court on Sept. 25 By Catherine Holland Elizabeth Johnson in court on Sept. 25 By Catherine Holland
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Dabbing her tears, biting her lips and once sobbing loudly in court, the mother of missing baby Gabriel Johnson, Elizabeth Johnson, sat uncomfortably in a Maricopa County Superior Courtroom on Tuesday listening as prosecutors continued to lay out their case against her.

Johnson, 26, is charged with kidnapping, conspiracy and custodial interference in connection with the 2009 disappearance of her then 8-month-old son.

Called to the witness stand in the morning was Gabriel's grandfather, Frank McQuery, who told jurors about the rocky relationship between his son Logan, Gabriel's father, and Johnson.

"They had good days and bad days," McQuery said.

McQuery also told the court that his son was a "happy" and "proud" father when Gabriel was born in May 2009, but that when his relationship with the child's mother began to fall apart, Logan sought custody of Gabriel.

"We went to court and filed paperwork," McQuery told jurors.

But according to prosecutors, Johnson had other ideas, fleeing to San Antonio, Texas with Gabriel in late December 2009. From there, she then phoned and texted Logan saying that she had suffocated their child and thrown his body in a dumpster.

The afternoon testimony brought the most dramatic moment of the day when a Valley woman named DeeAnn Ayala was called to the stand.

Ayala is a one-time friend of Tammi Smith, the North Scottsdale woman, who has already been convicted of conspiring with Elizabeth Johnson to adopt baby Gabriel without the consent of the child's father.

"Elizabeth and Tammi came up with a plan," Ayala said. 

Tammi "was going to do anything she had to." Ayala also told jurors of a bizarre phone call she received from Smith during which she says Smith asked her if she and Johnson could list the name of Ayala's husband on court documents as a possible father of baby Gabriel.

Ayala said she told Smith "no" and contacted police when the story of Gabriel's disappearance broke a short time later.

It was during Ayala's testimony that Johnson erupted with her most emotional display thus far in the three-day old trial as she let out a loud sob late in the afternoon.

A stunned courtroom was silent for several seconds but then Johnson seemed to regain her uneasy composure and the trial continued.