Nearly three years after the case of missing Baby Gabriel Johnson captured national attention, his mother, Elizabeth Johnson, was sentenced on Friday to 5.25 years of prison on offenses in connection to the case.
But relatives of the child and his father, some of whom spoke before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer, still have no closure in knowing the tot’s well-being and whereabouts.
They wanted Johnson to stay in jail until it is known what happened to Gabriel, who was 7 months old when he was last seen on Dec. 27, 2009. Kreamer said he couldn’t do that, but he wasn’t going to let Johnson walk away free, either. His decision came after more than three hours of testimony and hearing a psychologist say that Johnson was immature, had a bad childhood, the mentality of a 15-year-old, and needed help, but was a salvageable young woman.
Kreamer said that under the circumstances, he believed her words to the boy’s father, Logan McQueary – at one point she told McQueary she had killed Gabriel -- were an attempt to maximize the pain she was trying to cause. By being three years down the road and no one knowing where Gabriel is, that harm factor “was off the charts,” he said.
“The harm to the victim was overwhelming,” Kreamer said.
Johnson, now 26, of Tempe, had also said she gave her son away to a couple she didn’t know at a motel in San Antonio. She could have faced anything from probation to 9.5 years in prison for charges of unlawful imprisonment, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Kreamer told a teary-eyed Johnson that she wasn’t going to walk out free.
Dressed in a black and white striped jail uniform and in handcuffs, Johnson cried throughout the hearing. She testified she thought she only wanted what was best for Gabriel when she gave him away, although she realizes she had no right to give him away.
Johnson received 3.5 years for the custodial interference offense (with 1,062 days credited from her being incarcerated in a Maricopa County jail for three years), a Class 4 felony, 1.75 years for the unlawful imprisonment charge, a Class 6 felony, and four years probation for the conspiracy to commit custodial interference with mental health counseling upon her release.
Johnson, who cried and apologized during the sentencing that she did “deserve the max,” said she was “sorry for the pain I have caused and ashamed at the choices I have made. I can’t believe I said the words that I did and regret it. I’m at a loss and turmoil inside. I’ll never be able to give back what I’ve taken. I have to live every day without my son and knowing where he’s at.”
“It wasn’t about Logan; it was about Gabriel,” Johnson added. “I wanted what was best for him and that was to give him to a happily-married, loving family that I and Logan didn’t have. At the time, I believed I was doing the right thing, but now realize I had no right to give Gabriel away on my own. But at the end of the day, Gabriel is still missing and it’s all my fault. An apology is all I have to offer.”
In mid-December 2009, Johnson, now 26, took Gabriel to San Antonio in the midst of a custody battle with the child’s father, McQueary, formerly of Gilbert. Days later, Johnson was arrested at a hostel in Miami, Fla., where she was without the child and waiting on her grandmother to complete a move from Massachusetts so she could live with her in Florida and “start a new life.”
But since her arrest, Johnson’s life has been spent in the Maricopa County Estrella Jail without bond on charges of unlawful imprisonment (reduced from kidnapping), custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference amid numerous appearances at court proceedings in connection to the case.
McQueary, has been living out of state and was not present in court, but addressed the court via a telephone call heard in the courtroom.
He was one among many of his family members — some who believe that Gabriel still is alive, who requested that Johnson be punished and held accountable for her actions.
“Not only has this affected me and my family, it has affected hundreds of members of law enforcement and many people throughout the community and country that we don’t even know,” McQueary said.
He continued, “I did not get to hear Gabriel’s first words, see his first steps, help him to learn how to walk, help him to tie his shoes or to brush his teeth. It’s all gone and can’t be replaced. Although Elizabeth may be sorry for what she did, it doesn’t change what she did.”
Logan’s father, Frank McQueary, appeared in court on Friday and also spoke before the judge.
“This isn’t over for our family,” Frank McQueary said. “Some people will say she (Elizabeth) made some mistakes, but these aren’t mistakes. She consciously chose the actions she committed and did it to hurt Logan — and it hurt our whole family.
“This won’t be over until we know what happened to Gabriel. She caused wounds to Logan that will never heal.”
McQueary’s aunt, Kelli McQueary, who was wearing a button with a picture of Gabriel that said “Justice for Gabriel,” said prior to the sentencing, “We’ll never have closure until we know what happened to Gabriel and where he is.”
“She needs to stay in jail until we know what happened to Gabriel,” Kelli McQueary added. “It’s not fair to end for her until it ends for us.”
Soon after Gabriel’s disappearance, McQueary’s cousin, Lisa Peters, returned from overseas to accompany him on his trip to San Antonio searching for more clues in the case in February, 2010. San Antonio police have maintained they have no evidence that she killed Gabriel.
“We’re not going to stop looking for a live baby,” Peters said. “Not out of hatred or anything, but we believe she should stay in jail until she helps us find out where Gabriel is. She’s the one who can end all of that, or when we get information or a lead, she can discount it, or say, no, that’s not right, so we’re not wasting time.”
Despite Johnson’s sentence Friday, Baby Gabriel’s whereabouts and well-being remain unanswered -- and his family still is seeking closure.
“Until we have proof that Gabriel is no longer with us, we’ll keep looking for him,” Lisa Peters’ mother, Sandy Peters, said. “We have a family member missing, and families don’t give up.”
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