Elizabeth Johnson, the mother of missing Baby Gabriel, was released from prison at 12:04 a.m. after spending the last four and a half years behind bars. She stole her child from his biological father, and after first saying that she killed him, she now claims she gave him away to a couple in a Texas park.
Her attorney, Marc Victor, sat down with CBS5's Pat McReynolds, and talked about Johnson's newfound maturity, her desire to see Gabriel again, and reveals the person he said can best track Gabriel down.
MCREYNOLDS: "Mark Victor, than you very much for joining us this morning. I want to first ask you, Elizabeth Johnson will be getting out of prison momentarily, what will be her restrictions once she is out?"
VICTOR: "Well, she's going to be on probation, so like anyone who's on probation, she's got four years' probation. She's got all the standard terms of probation. She's got some special mental health terms that are in the record that Judge (Joseph) Kreamer imposed. Other than that, it will be just a standard probation."
MCREYNOLDS: "For those who aren't familiar with standard probation, what exactly does that mean?"
VICTOR: "Well, there's a whole variety of terms. Term one is always the most popular, which is obey all laws. So, she'll have to comply with the laws, she'll have a probation officer. That person may want her to take certain classes or counseling. Their goal is really to help her succeed and not have a problem and to whatever extent she needs services or counseling, those types of things, they do their best to try to get that person in to those types of services.
"So I expect she won't have any problems on probation. Generally speaking, if somebody does well in Maricopa County on probation, about 50 percent of the time through the probation, you can move to terminate probation. So I expect she'll be treated like anybody else and on the two-year mark of her probation, and she's done a good job... we'll probably move to terminate her probation."
MCREYNOLDS: "Can she live outside of the state of Arizona?"
VICTOR: "That's going to be first a function and question of her probation officer. She does have a term that says she cannot leave the state unless the probation officer says it's OK, so she needs permission to leave the state. There is something called the interstate compact which is an agreement between the states that people can apply for and be supervised in another state. She may avail herself of that at some point."
MCREYNOLDS: "I know that she doesn't have a lot of family right now. Her grandfather passed away last month, her brother is in prison. Does she have someone she can live with, and would she have to live in a halfway house for a time before she could live with a friend or family member?"
VICTOR: "She doesn't. She's going to be released tomorrow at some point and as long as she doesn't leave the state, then she can live with whoever she wants, however there are always restrictions on living with people who are convicted felons and so she'll need to be concerned about that, but she does have some family and she has lots of options."
MCREYNOLDS: "There is some mental treatment that she needs to continue, she's been on medication since she's been inside prison, is that a stipulation from the judge that she will have to continue that medication?"
VICTOR: "The stipulation wasn't about medication, it was about mental health counseling, so that's what the judge ordered. So what normally happens in these cases is judges will defer to probation officers because the judge is off to new cases and the probation officer will meet with her on a regular basis.
"If something needs to be changed, they can always go back to the judge, as can we."
MCREYNOLDS: "Before the trial and during the trial, she had shown a lot of immaturity, not only in her actions but in a lot of her statements, you've been talking to her since she's been incarcerated, has she matured?"
VICTOR: "Oh, I think tremendously. I think it's really been a nice thing to watch. I like it when another human being learns and grows from an experience that they have, and I think that's been the case here. I think, uh, from the day that I met Elizabeth to the day she gets released, she has changed dramatically. She's almost a different person. It's true she certainly wasn't prepared for the national attention that she got and not only was it national attention, some people get national attention and it's positive, hers wasn't. So, she had gangs of people who were upset with her. I felt that as her lawyer. I received emails from people who were upset with me just from defending Elizabeth Johnson, so I know there was a lot of anger out there. And when you are dealing with a really young single mom, she's not going to handle that appropriately.
"The text message she sent that got so much attention and the recorded phone call afterwards, not things that she's proud of at all. Things she wished she had never said. Things that she would love to take back if she could and it was just difficult for her to listen to that and that I think was the main thrust of why she had difficulty in the trial which wasn't really very often at all."
MCREYNOLDS: "You mention the vitriol from the public, and it's still out there. If you read the internet blogs, there are people who are saying things like if I had an hour alone with her in a room, I would find out where Gabriel is. And there are law enforcement officers, FBI agents who are actually concerned for her safety. Is that a concern of hers, is that a concern of yours?"
VICTOR: "Of course it is a concern, it's always a concern. Our ability to do things about that is limited and so it's a problem. I believe at some point she may choose to speak about things that she never got to testify at the trial. Of course, it was her legal right to testify, but it was our strategy that she not testify so she was left sort of muted. She never got to tell her story. But if there is a piece of the puzzle that the general public is not familiar with, it is the fact that there was an ocean of information out there about how much she loved Gabriel. I mean yes, there was a horrible text message, there was a horrible recorded phone call after that, but the huge preponderance of the evidence, the overwhelming majority of the evidence as I would say was very clearly in favor of or in the category of Elizabeth loved Gabriel and would do anything to protect him.
"I think if people knew about that, I think they would look at her differently."
MCREYNOLDS: "I have to press you on that because a woman who loves her child as much as you say she does doesn't normally give him away to an anonymous couple, doesn't normally take him away from his biological father forever. How do you explain those actions?"
VICTOR: "Giving your baby away to another couple is really common and I think most people would agree that in the majority of those cases it's probably the right decision to make. It's what you said about an anonymous couple, and that's the part I would take issue with.
"I think people would understand better if they had seen Elizabeth give Gabriel away to a couple that has been screened by an adoption agency, that didn't happen here. But the part that they don't understand as well is that this couple was communicated to Elizabeth Johnson as a loving great couple, a great place for Gabriel, by Tammi Smith. And you know, rightfully or wrongfully, and I guess we can say wrongfully at this point, Elizabeth Johnson trusted Tammi Smith, relied on her, trusted her implicitly.
"This is a couple that Elizabeth believed would be best for Gabriel."
MCREYNOLDS: "But Tammi Smith said she didn't have any part in the adoption after Elizabeth Johnson got to Texas. You are giving me knew information now that wasn't introduced in court."
VICTOR: "That's the information I have."
MCREYNOLDS: "So I want to be clear, you are now telling me that this was not an anonymous couple, this was an adoption set up by Tammi Smith and a couple that she arranged to meet Elizabeth in Texas."
VICTOR: "I can tell you the information that I have is that this wasn't a first meeting. This didn't happen on the first meeting. There were several meetings between Elizabeth Johnson and this couple and that Elizabeth Johnson believed that this couple would be trustworthy, responsible and good place to raise Gabriel."
MCREYNOLDS: "Can Tammi Smith now be prosecuted?"
VICTOR: "I can't speak to whether Tammi Smith would be or could be prosecuted, that's a question for (Maricopa County Attorney) Bill Montgomery. She was prosecuted, she was convicted. Tammi Smith, of course, denies that. I wasn't there, I don't know.
"Elizabeth Johnson wanted to protect Tammi Smith, if you recall at the beginning. She still trusted Tammi. It wasn't until later that she realized that Tammi really wasn't on her side and wasn't her friend, so it's true she made inconsistent statements. She said things that she regrets all through this case. But from what I know of the evidence and what I've seen of the evidence, that's what makes the most sense to me.
"I don't think Elizabeth Johnson knows where Baby Gabriel is. I don't think she has any idea.
"To the extent anybody would have the ability of tracking Gabriel down, my best guess is that Tammi Smith is the person to ask."
MCREYNOLDS: "Does Elizabeth Johnson have any interest in reconnecting with Gabriel and seeing him again?"
VICTOR: "She would love to see Gabriel, she would love to know how he is doing, she would love to be a part of his life. But we've talked about whether or not that's the best for Gabriel. It's certainly the best for Elizabeth. What's best for Elizabeth is to find Gabriel and be part of his life. To maybe even get Logan (McQueary, Gabriel's biological father) involved in his life, as well. It's certainly best for Logan, as well. To clear the air about what happened to Gabriel, that's clearly the best thing for Elizabeth. Is it the best thing for Gabriel, and that's a completely different question. And Elizabeth has indicated to me that she wants what's best for Gabriel. That's where her interest lies. And it certainly may be possible that Gabriel doesn't know anything about this entire situation."
MCREYNOLDS: "Because of all of the media attention in this case and there has been plenty, do you think that it is even possible for her to live a normal life?"
VICTOR: "I think it's possible. I think that I've had many high-profile trials in the past and you know, the public has a short memory."
MCREYNOLDS: "But Mark, at best, she robbed a father of a life with his son. Does she deserve to live a normal life?"
VICTOR: "Well, look, I think when people do bad things, and this is a bad thing. As you point out, what happened to Logan McQueary, bad thing. Elizabeth will be the first to say, in fact she said in the very beginning, she said, 'I don't want to try to make Logan look bad, I'm not upset with him, I feel bad for him, he's a victim here.'
"And you may have noticed I didn't ask one question on cross of Logan McQueary. Our case was not at all about Logan McQueary, in fact I came out in my closing argument and said some complimentary things about Logan McQueary, so that really emanates from Elizabeth.
"So she takes responsibility for what she did, she takes her lumps. We could say that about anybody who commits any crime. Should they be punished forever for the rest of their lives? There are some crimes where as a society that we deem that to be appropriate. This isn't one of them. She's done four and a half years. It's time for everybody to move on."
MCREYNOLDS: "There are people who will never believe her story, who will never believe what she has told you and who believe sadly that Gabriel is dead."
VICTOR: "Look, I don't have personal knowledge of what happened here. What I can say is all of the evidence that I have seen in this case and everything that Elizabeth has told me about the case leads me to conclude is that she gave Baby Gabriel to a couple she met in Texas."
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