PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman whose infant son vanished nearly three years ago was convicted of unlawful imprisonment Thursday after a jury failed to reach a verdict on the most serious charge against her, kidnapping.
The Maricopa County jury deliberated for about a day and a half before returning the verdict against Elizabeth Johnson in the December 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son, Gabriel.
The jury also found her guilty of custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial inference.
Johnson, 26, shifted in her chair but showed no emotion when the verdicts were read. She wore a striped shirt and dark blazer and had her long, brown hair in a ponytail.
The court hearing continued after the verdicts were read, to determine whether there were aggravating circumstances that could make Johnson’s punishment more severe.
She had originally faced up to 27 years in prison if convicted of kidnapping and the other charges.
Authorities said Johnson told the boy’s father that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin in San Antonio, Texas. They said she later recanted and told police she gave the baby to a couple at a San Antonio park. She never provided the couple’s names.
Authorities don’t know if Gabriel, who would have turned 3 in April, is still alive. San Antonio police searched a landfill, but no body was found.
Johnson initially was found mentally unfit to stand trial but later was cleared to proceed.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Angela Andrews said Johnson used Gabriel as a pawn in her disputes with the boy’s father, Logan McQueary. The prosecutor alleged Johnson ran off to another state with the child as a way to retaliate against McQueary for ending their tumultuous relationship.
McQueary isn’t suspected in the child’s disappearance.
Johnson’s attorney, Marc Victor, presented no defense witnesses at trial. He had said the jury likely would convict Johnson on the custodial interference charge because she violated a judge’s custody order. But he argued prosecutors otherwise failed to prove his client’s guilt.
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.
Investigators said Johnson brought the child from Tempe to Texas, stayed for a week and then took a bus to Florida without him.
Johnson had been fighting with McQueary 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.