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December 10th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Elizabeth Johnson was back in court one last time last Friday.  Here’s the latest (New York Daily News, 12/8/12).  She’s the Arizona mother who, when faced with the demands by their son’s father for custody of the boy, went on the lam to Texas and ultimately Florida.  Their son Gabriel has never been seen since.  Johnson told the father, Logan McQueary, that she had murdered the boy, stuffed his body in a plastic garbage bag and tossed it in a dumpster.  That supposedly occurred in San Antonio, but belated searches of local landfills by police turned up no body.

Captured in Florida and faced with criminal charges, Johnson hastened to claim that Gabriel was still alive, that she’d given him to a couple in a park in San Antonio and had no idea of where or who they were.  Johnson spent three years in jail awaiting trial at which she was convicted of custodial interference, among other things.  The maximum sentence would have been 9 1/2 years, but the judge sentenced her to only 5 1/4 years with four years probation when she gets out.  With credit for time served, Johnson will be out in at most 2 1/4 years.

I and countless others have long wondered what Johnson actually did with Gabriel.  Did she give the nine-month-old away or murder him?  It may be that the sentencing proceedings suggest an answer.  Logan McQueary and his family have always said that all they care about is Gabriel.  They want to see the child again and know that he’s alright.

Gabriel’s paternal grandfather, Frank McQueary, and other family members pleaded with Johnson to explain what happened to Gabriel in tearful testimony asking the judge to sentence her to the maximum prison term.

“This isn’t over for our family,” McQueary said. “This is not going to be over until we know where Gabriel is.”

…”What Elizabeth has done has not only robbed me but also my friends and family,” Logan McQueary said in court by telephone. “I did not get to hear Gabe’s first word. I did not get to see him walk or run. … I do not get to see what a great man he would have been.”

Of course, that may have been Johnson’s intention all along – to make McQueary suffer.  If so, the question that hangs in the air – is he alive or dead? – is perfectly calculated to cause the greatest harm.

For their part, prosecutors want to know the answer too.

Authorities said Johnson initially told the boy’s father, Logan McQueary, that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin, but she later recanted and told police she gave the infant to a couple at a San Antonio, Texas, park. She never provided the couple’s names and refused to do so during Friday’s hearing.

Prosecutor Angela Andrews offered to only seek probation if Johnson would tell them where Gabriel is, not just “vague statements, but his actual physical whereabouts.”

After the hearing, Andrews said no one knows but Johnson if Gabriel, who would have turned 3 this past April, is still alive.

“She’s the only person that has the answer,” Andrews said. “We just wanted her to give it to us.”

That raises the obvious question – why would Johnson reject an offer of probation just because it meant revealing the truth about what happened to Gabriel?  Had she given prosecutors and the McQuearys that single bit of information, she could be a free woman this very minute.  But she chose prison over freedom.

Or did she?  One obvious conclusion is that, if she told prosecutors where Gabriel is, she wouldn’t be free on probation, but facing a murder rap.  That’s why it looks like the sentencing procedure suggests the answer to the question that’s hung over this case since Johnson ran away with Gabriel three years ago.

Now, it’s true that if Gabriel has been in the care of the San Antonio couple all along, and Johnson revealed their names and whereabouts, McQueary would immediately move for custody.  Eventually, he’d get it too, and that would put Johnson in the position of paying child support and playing the part of non-custodial mother, the role she ran away to avoid in the first place.  So maybe she resolved years ago to just ride out the storm – to do her time, walk away and let Logan McQueary suffer a lifetime of wondering where his son is and whether he’s OK.

What’s also true is that, despite this being one of the most highly publicized cases in recent memory, no one has come forward with Gabriel.  It’s hard to imagine how a couple could suddenly, out of the blue, acquire a child with no questions being asked of them.  That too suggests that what Elizabeth Johnson originally told Logan McQueary is most likely the truth.  But I suspect we’ll never know for certain.

Meanwhile, in court, Johnson turned on the faucets for the benefit of the judge and others.

Prior to sentencing, Johnson stood before the judge sobbing and apologized for what she did, but she maintained her story that she gave Gabriel away to a couple in Texas.

Judge Joseph Kreamer swallowed her act whole.

Kreamer could have sentenced her to 9 1/2 years but said he took into account her troubled childhood and mental instability, agreeing with a psychologist who testified she needs treatment.

“Her chances to succeed are increased if she gets treatment, there’s no doubt about it,” the judge said while noting he had to give her prison time, given that Gabriel is still missing.

Actually, all things considered, she’s already succeeded pretty well.

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