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What happened to 'Baby Gabriel'? Trial may provide answers

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 9:55 AM EDT, Wed September 5, 2012
Gabriel Johnson was 8-months-old when he was last spotted alive.
Gabriel Johnson was 8-months-old when he was last spotted alive.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The then-8-month-old known as "Baby Gabriel" disappeared in 2009
  • The boy is still missing; his mother faces kidnapping and child abuse charges
  • She sends the boy's father a series of spiteful texts saying she killed him
  • She later recants her statements

(CNN) -- Little Gabriel Johnson was 8-months-old when he was last spotted alive at a Texas motel in late 2009.

Almost three years later, his disappearance is still a mystery. And a trial that gets underway this week may finally provide some answers to what happened.

Jury selection begins Wednesday in the trial of Gabriel's mother, Elizabeth Johnson, who is charged with kidnapping, custodial interference and child abuse in the case.

On December 17, 2009, a judge awarded Johnson and Logan McQueary, the boy's father, joint custody of Gabriel. But Johnson allegedly defied the ruling and set out for Texas with her son.

McQueary didn't hear from Johnson until several days later, when she reportedly sent him a text message saying she'd killed Gabriel and put his body in a Dumpster.

Grandfather of 'Baby Gabriel' happy
Where is Baby Gabriel?

"I killed him," Johnson said in a text to McQueary on December 27, 2009. "U will never see Gabriel again, I made sure of that. And you can spend the rest of ur pathetic life wondering about him."

The scathing series of texts continued.

"U will never find me im already bording a plane. Out of the country," Johnson said. "When im safe ill email u the exact location of dead gabriels little blue body. If the garbage don't come first."

McQueary also recorded a phone call from Johnson in which she made similar claims.

Johnson: "You made me do this."

McQuery: "You did not hurt Gabriel."

Johnson: "Yes, I did. I suffocated him. .... I suffocated him and he turned blue. And I put him in his diaper bag and I put him in the trash can."

She later recanted her statements, CNN affiliate KPHO-TV reported.

Johnson was arrested on December 30, 2009, in Miami Beach, Florida.

She told police that she'd given the boy to a unknown couple she met up with in San Antonio. She said she did so under the direction of a woman named Tammi Smith.

Johnson and Smith had met in June 2009, when both women were waiting for the same flight in the Indianapolis airport.

Smith suggested to the young mother that she and her husband adopt Gabriel. Johnson said she called Smith that December to ask if the couple was still interested.

This May, Smith was found guilty of forgery and conspiracy to interfere with Gabriel's custody. In July, she was sentenced to probation and 30 days in jail.

Smith's conviction does not relate to the boy's disappearance, but her efforts to conspire with Johnson to deny McQueary his rights to see his son.

Jurors also accepted prosecutors' argument that Smith falsely wrote the name of her cousin on a paternity document to falsely assert that he -- and not McQueary -- was Gabriel's father.

The defendant addressed the court at the time, admitting that she helped Johnson and helped care for Gabriel for nine days.

Smith eventually apologized for any "pain and suffering" that helping Johnson may have caused, even as she firmly insisted that her intentions were good.

"I never intended to hurt anybody," Johnson said, adding that she just wanted to help a single mother who she felt was in need. "I pray every day that Gabriel is alive and that he is found."

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