An Arizona state judge has sentenced Elizabeth Johnson to five years in prison in connection with the Christmastime 2009 disappearance of her son, Gabriel Johnson, then 8 months old.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer's decision came Friday, nearly two months after a jury returned a guilty verdict against Elizabeth Johnson for custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment.
"I wish there was something I could do to bring closure, but there's not," Kreamer said before handing down the sentence.
Kreamer sentenced Johnson to three and a half years for the custodial interference charge, and one year and nine months for the unlawful imprisonment charge, bringing the total sentence to five years and three months. Kreamer said Johnson would be credited with the 1,062 days she has already served, leaving her about two years to complete behind bars. Upon her release, she must also serve four years probation, Kreamer said.
Prior to sentencing, Johnson spoke on her own behalf. "I am ashamed of the choices I have made ... I should have known better but at the time I did what I felt was right for [my son]. I regret taking Gabriel away from [his father] and for saying the things I said," Johnson said.
Johnson said she gave her son away in Texas so he could be with a "real, loving family."
"I have to live every day without my son and without knowing where he is," a tearful Johnson said. "That is the worst pain and punishment I could ever have ... I am deeply sorry."
The baby's father, Logan McQueary, 25, also spoke in court, via a phone call to the judge.
"I don't know what to say that has not already been said ... What Elizabeth has done has not only robbed me but my friends and family ... her actions hurt and changed people and their lives forever [and] I think Elizabeth should be held accountable for her actions," Logan said.
Prosecutor Angela Andrews announced in court that her office was willing to set aside its recommendation of imprisonment if Johnson would reveal where her child is.
The defense did not respond to Andrews' offer.
Andrews described Johnson's actions as "despicable" and said she had caused "amazing pain and suffering" to the victims. "She was a vindictive and scheming woman who used her child as a pawn ... Her actions demonstrated nothing but pure selfishness and vengeance," Andrews said.
Gabriel was last seen on Dec. 26, 2009, according to police. Johnson, 26, and McQueary shared joint custody. On Dec. 27, the day McQueary was supposed to pick up his son, he said he received an ominous text message apparently from Johnson telling him their baby was dead.
"You will never see Gabriel again," the text read. "I made sure of that. And you can spend the rest of your pathetic life wondering about him. You will never find me. I'm already boarding a plane out of the country. When I'm safe, I'll email you the exact location of dead Gabriel's little blue body, if the garbage don't come first. This is what liars like you deserve."
Later that same day, police said, Johnson called McQueary to say that she had suffocated Gabriel and dumped his body in a trash can. "I suffocated him. I suffocated him, and he turned blue, and I put him in his diaper bag and put him in the trash can," a woman identified by investigators as Johnson said in the audiotape they released.
According to police, Johnson told McQueary that she had killed their child out of revenge because she believed McQueary was involved with other women. "You want to talk to girls -- that's the price you pay," Johnson told her former boyfriend, according to police.
Johnson also claimed he had destroyed her life, according to the audiotape. McQueary responded, "I haven't destroyed anything." Johnson replied, "Yes, you have, Logan. You made me kill my baby boy ... So find some new girl to make your new baby."
The text message and phone recording prompted a massive search of local landfills by police, but they were unable to find the child.
Johnson was arrested by police in Miami on Dec. 30, 2009, and charged with kidnapping and custodial interference.
BABY GABRIEL CASE PHOTOS (Story Continues Below)
In the days following her arrest, Johnson changed her story, telling police she had given Gabriel away to strangers in San Antonio, where her car was later found. But she never provided the couple's names. Witnesses have placed Johnson and the baby in the San Antonio area between Dec. 20 and 27, although she was alone when she turned up in Florida on Dec. 27, 2009.
Gabriel's mother also implicated an Arizona woman named Tammi Smith, claiming that Smith helped set up the meeting with the San Antonio couple. Smith, 38, allegedly wanted to adopt Gabriel herself. In February 2010, Smith was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit custodial interference after authorities discovered she had offered money to Johnson and forged court documents, police said.
In mid-October of this year, a jury convicted Johnson of custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the kidnapping charge and instead found Johnson guilty of a lesser count of unlawful imprisonment.
After Johnson's conviction, her grandfather, Bob Johnson, told ABC15 that Gabriel's whereabouts will likely remain a mystery. Authorities still do not know if the child is alive or dead. "I think that there's a real good possibility that we will never, I repeat, never know what happened," he said.
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