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Jury finds Elizabeth Johnson not guilty on kidnapping charge

PHOENIX — The jury found Elizabeth Johnson guilty of unlawful imprisonment, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference in the case of her son disappearing more than two years ago.

Johnson was found not guilty on kidnapping, the most serious charge against her in the case.

The aggravation phase has now started with a teary-eyed Johnson looking on and listening.

Johnson, 26, was charged in December 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son, Gabriel. She faced up to 27 years in prison.

The verdict means Elizabeth Johnson now faces a sentencing range of two to nine years, despite being suspected in the Christmastime 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son, Gabriel. The child has never been found.

Johnson’s attorney Marc Victor even said he would try to seek probation for his 26-year-old client, noting she already has spent nearly three years in jail. No sentencing date has been set.

“That took the wind substantially out of the case,” Victor said of the lesser conviction.

Gabriel was last seen with his mother on Dec. 26, 2009, at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

Authorities said Johnson told the boy’s father that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin in San Antonio, Texas. But they say 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.

Investigators don’t know if the child, who would have turned 3 in April, is still alive.

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.

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.

As the verdicts were delivered Thursday, Johnson shifted in her chair but showed no emotion. She wore a dark blazer over a peach-colored shirt with white stripes, and her long, brown hair was in a ponytail.

Gabriel’s paternal grandfather, Frank McQueary, said afterward he was pleased that Johnson got three convictions. But he said the lighter punishment she’ll face rankles him.

“Elizabeth is one of those not-so-nice people who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be walking around with everyone else,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.