PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman charged with criminal wrongdoing in her child's disappearance more than two years ago ran off to another state with the child because the baby's father had broken up with her, prosecutors said Thursday.
Also, the young mother tried — out of retaliation — to put the boy up for adoption against the father's wishes, prosecutor Elisa Ramunno told jurors at the opening of Elizabeth Johnson's trial.
"Gabriel Johnson was a pawn," Ramunno said, prompting Johnson to wipe tears from her face.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial inference in the December 2009 disappearance of her then-8-month-old son.
Johnson told the boy's father that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin in San Antonio where the child was last seen. She later recanted and told police she gave the baby to a couple at a park there, but she never provided names.
Police don't know whether Gabriel is alive. A search of a landfill didn't turn up the child's body. Gabriel would have turned 3 years old in April.
Johnson's attorney said he won't dispute many facts in the case, including the couple's rocky relationship and a text message that Johnson sent to the baby's father in which she said she killed the child.
"This case isn't about whether or not you like Elizabeth Johnson," Marc Victor said, adding that jurors aren't to consider the baby's whereabouts or be swayed by the emotions of the case.
Earlier in the case, Johnson was found mentally unfit to stand trial, but has since been deemed psychologically ready for the proceedings.
Investigators said Johnson brought the child from Tempe to Texas, stayed for a week and then booked a bus trip to Florida without him.
She had been fighting with the child's biological father about whether to give Gabriel up for adoption and had signed over temporary guardianship to a couple in Scottsdale 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 possible paternity of the baby in an effort to keep Gabriel away from his father. Smith was convicted of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
The child's father, Logan McQueary, isn't suspected in the child's disappearance.
A judge has ruled that jurors at Johnson's trial won't hear a statement in which authorities say Johnson told a police detective that she killed the boy. The judge ruled that Johnson's rights were violated when a San Antonio detective interviewed her in a Phoenix jail without her attorneys being there or even knowing about the interview.
Johnson's statement to McQueary can be used. McQueary has said he got two text messages from Johnson while she was in Texas — the first saying simply "I killed him," and the second saying she had killed the child, put him in a diaper bag and threw him in a trash bin.
Johnson had previously been charged with child abuse but that charge was dismissed earlier this summer at the request of prosecutors.