PHOENIX — An Arizona woman convicted in the disappearance of her young son was released from prison today without ever providing authorities details on the whereabouts of the missing boy.
Elizabeth Johnson carried a cardboard box of belongings as she walked out of prison just after midnight and was driven away by her attorney to an undisclosed location. She has no plans to make any public statements.
Johnson, 27, is “happy to be out, excited about her future, and optimistic about how things are going to go for her,” her lawyer Marc Victor said.
The release from prison was the latest twist in the case that began with the December 2009 disappearance of 8-month-old “Baby Gabriel” and included police searches of trash containers and a Texas landfill.
Authorities have said Johnson initially told the boy’s father that she killed her son and dumped him in a trash bin but later recanted and said she gave the infant to a couple at a park in San Antonio, Texas. With no sign of the child, prosecutors were only able to file lesser charges against her, including kidnapping, custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment.
A jury deadlocked on the kidnapping charge — the most serious count against her that could have brought more than two decades in prison. She was sentenced to 5 1/4 years on the interference and imprisonment convictions.
Despite Johnson being released from prison, the case isn’t necessarily finished. Authorities could still bring charges against her if the child turns up dead.
Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Angela Andrews, the prosecutor who tried the case, said she thinks about the missing baby every day and is bothered by the lack of closure.
“For the family, for the prosecuting team, for the investigators who worked the case, there is absolutely no closure in the case,” Andrews said.
At sentencing in December 2012, Johnson sobbed and apologized but didn’t provide any information about the baby’s whereabouts. Prosecutors had offered to only seek probation if Johnson would tell them Gabriel’s whereabouts, but she refused.
“I wanted to give Gabriel a life that was better than I had growing up,” Johnson told the judge at the time. “What I have done is unbelievable. There’s not really anything I can say for myself.
“I would convict myself,” she added. “It’s horrible. ... I do deserve the max.”
Police say Johnson ran off to Texas with the child as a way to retaliate against his father for ending their tumultuous relationship. The father was never suspected in the disappearance of the child.
The boy was last seen with his mother on Dec. 26, 2009, at a hotel in San Antonio.
Investigators said Johnson took the child from Arizona to Texas, stayed for a week and then took a bus to Florida without him. She was arrested in Florida on Dec. 30, 2009.
Johnson had been fighting with the boy’s father 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.
“What Elizabeth has done has not only robbed me but also my friends and family,” the boy’s father, Logan McQueary, said during Johnson’s sentencing hearing. “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.”
Andrews said the father’s uncertainly about the fate of his child still disturbs her.
“Most of my reactions in the past couple days have been less of her walking out of prison and more about listening to Logan talk about how every day he still wonders what happened to his son,” the prosecutor said.
Johnson’s attorney said his client does not know the boy’s whereabouts.
“Cutting right to the chase, does Elizabeth know where Gabriel is? Answer, no,” Victor said. “The last time she saw Gabriel was four and a half years ago. Ten minutes after Gabriel was handed to that couple, she didn’t know where Gabriel was.”