A high-profile trial involving a missing East Valley boy once again has been pushed back, as a judge ruled Friday that his mother is not competent to stand trial.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie said he believes Elizabeth Johnson’s mental state can be restored, and doctors will need to conduct further evaluations that will help him decide whether she returns to court or heads to a state mental hospital.
McMurdie rendered his decision after prosecutors and Johnson’s defense attorney argued for four hours Friday over whether she understands what she’s doing.
Johnson, 25, has been incarcerated in Maricopa County’s Estrella jail on charges of kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference since her December 2009 arrest in Florida following statements to authorities and her estranged boyfriend and child’s father Logan McQueary of Gilbert that she killed her son Gabriel and also that she gave him away in San Antonio. In mid-December 2009, when he was eight months old, Johnson took the boy to that city and stayed at a motel where she claimed to have given him to a couple she did not know.
McQueary on Friday expressed frustration with his child’s mother.
“I think Elizabeth is just playing around and not owning up to what she’s done,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I know she’s capable of talking. I don’t think her attorneys know what to do, but they can’t do anything until she talks.
“She’s being a coward and making the case all about her.”
McMurdie’s decision is another turn in the case that has gained national attention and now has spanned six attorneys who have tried to defend Johnson, all of whom have said she is not giving them information and they cannot get anywhere with her, including current defender Daniel Raynak. She also has had six evaluations by psychologists, all of whom have made different decisions involving her competency to stand trial.
“I think she’s mentally ill,” Raynak said outside the courtroom.
No further court dates are pending at this time, but doctors again will have to evaluate Johnson and submit their reports to the judge within 60 days.
“This woman is not restorable to competency. It’s never going to happen,” Raynak said. “She has no sense of reality and there is no sense of dealing.
“Not once has she talked about a single fact of the case. Never have I had anyone with a complete lack of inability to focus in on what matters. The closest person on Earth, she won’t confide in,” he said, referring to his client’s grandfather Robert Johnson. “We can’t conduct a defense when she’s going to broadcast what we say to everyone,” referring to recorded jail conversations with relatives and apparent attempts to reach out to news media.
Prosecutors argued that Johnson knows what’s going on.
“She’s very fond of her attorneys until something happens that doesn’t go her way, then she gets upset,” said Maricopa County deputy prosecutor Angela Andrews.
Tammi Smith of Scottsdale, a woman who once was interested in adopting Gabriel, will appear in court in February in charges of forgery, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in connection with the Gabriel case.
“The case is about Gabriel,” McQueary said. “We still don’t know where he is.”
Johnson, who was present in court on Friday wearing a striped jail uniform, stared straight ahead and left the courtroom with tears in her eyes after the judge’s ruling and brief meeting with Raynak.
McMurdie’s decision on Friday marked the second time that Johnson was deemed incompetent to stand trial.
In early June 2010, the judge first ruled that she was incompetent to stand trial, but mentally restorable through counseling and medication after reviewing psycholigist’s Dr. Thomas Russell Geen’s report he submitted to the court.
Slightly more than three months later, Johnson’s restoration process was ruled complete.
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