In less than two weeks, Elizabeth Johnson will know whether she is deemed competent to stand trial in the case of her missing son Gabriel — or whether she is on her way to being committed to a state mental hospital.
On Aug. 2, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie will rule on the findings of doctors as to whether Johnson is competent to stand trial after he allowed her attorney’s motion in May to have a second psychological evaluation performed on her.
In June 2010, doctors initially deemed Johnson incompetent to stand trial but ruled her mental condition was restorable through counseling and medication, which was completed two months later. In the months of court proceedings that followed under Johnson’s most recent attorney, Daniel Raynak, other experts testified that Johnson still could be incompetent to stand trial, so McMurdie permitted a second evaluation further delaying court proceedings as Gabriel’s whereabouts remain unknown.
The results from Johnson’s second psychological evaluation are pending and are due in court prior to the Aug. 2 hearing. A trial date is scheduled to begin on Aug. 8, according to information from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office — more than a year and a half after Johnson’s arrest.
Since January 2010, Johnson, 24, of Tempe, has been incarcerated in Maricopa County’s Estrella jail on a $1 million cash bond on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Johnson has both said she killed her son and gave him to a couple she didn’t know after taking him to San Antonio when he was 7 months old in the midst of a custody battle with her estranged boyfriend and Gabriel’s father, Logan McQueary of Gilbert. The trial of Tammi Smith of Scottsdale, who was interested in adopting Gabriel and was accused of facilitating a hand-off of the child in San Antonio, also is scheduled to begin Aug. 8. Smith, 39, is charged with forgery, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in connection with the case.
If Johnson is deemed incompetent and unrestorable to stand trial, the case could be dismissed, and she could be committed to a state mental hospital where her condition would be reviewed for the next two years, according to Jerry Cobb, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
But he said if Johnson is mentally restored she could again be indicted on the charges involving her missing son, who now would be 27 months old, and stand trial.
“There’s a whole series of things that can happen,” Cobb said. “If she is deemed incompetent a second time, the prosecution can question the doctor’s findings. After hearing testimony from expert witnesses, the judge felt he had no choice but to allow a second evaluation. If she were found incompetent and unrestorable, there also would be the question of how long she could be institutionalized, but possibly released if she would not be considered a threat.
“But due to her previous actions leading up to her arrest, she could be considered a flight risk.”
Johnson’s attorney, Daniel Raynak, did not respond to a request for comment.
FBI agents arrested Johnson at a hostel in Miami Beach, Fla., close to a public library where agents discovered she was using a computer.
Johnson had planned to start over and live with her grandmother, who was in the process of moving to Florida from Boston.
Gabriel’s disappearance led to the investigation of a private adoption agency in Tennessee and an unsuccessful landfill search in San Antonio stemming from statements Johnson made to McQueary in December 2009 that she killed Gabriel and placed his
“little blue body in a diaper bag and tossed it in the Dumpster.”
Johnson’s grandfather, Scottsdale resident Robert Johnson, said on Wednesday that he believes his granddaughter’s case should be dismissed.
“There’s no forensic evidence that indicates she killed the baby,” Robert Johnson said. “Elizabeth said she gave the baby away, and that’s the story she’s sticking to. I’ve only talked to her once about it, and that’s what she said she did, end of story. This can’t go on forever.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or firstname.lastname@example.org