PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman convicted in the 2009 disappearance of her young son was released from prison Friday without having ever provided authorities any details on the whereabouts of the missing boy.
Elizabeth Johnson hauled away a cardboard box of belongings as she walked out of prison just after midnight and was driven away by her attorney.
Johnson is “happy to be out, excited about her future, and optimistic about how things are going to go for her,” lawyer Mark Victor said.
She doesn’t plan to make any public statements yet, he added.
Authorities have said Johnson initially told the boy’s father that she killed her son Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin, but she later recanted and said she gave the infant to a couple at a park in San Antonio, Texas.
She never provided the couple’s names and refused to do so during her sentencing hearing, when she stood before the judge and tearfully apologized for what she did.
“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.”
Her lawyer said Friday that Johnson “has completely come to terms” with her conviction and incarceration.
“She’s put it behind her,” Victor said. “She feels her sentence was tough but just.”
Johnson was convicted of custodial interference and unlawful imprisonment in the December 2009 disappearance of then-8-month-old Gabriel. The baby has never been found despite police searches in trash containers, a Texas landfill and elsewhere.
She was sentenced in December 2012 to 5 1/4 years in prison. She received credit toward her prison sentence for the nearly three years she had already served in jail since her arrest.
A jury deadlocked on a kidnapping charge — the most serious count against her that could have netted her more than two decades in prison.
Judge Joseph 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 that 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 order prison time, given that Gabriel was still missing.
“We are three years downstream. We don’t know where Gabriel is,” he told her.
Prosecutors had offered to only seek probation if Johnson would tell them Gabriel’s whereabouts, but she refused. Authorities weren’t immediately available for comment Friday.
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 child’s disappearance.
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.
The would-be adoptive mother from Scottsdale, Tammi Peters Smith, was accused of lying on a court document about the child’s possible paternity in an effort to keep Gabriel from his father. Smith was convicted of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
In 2010, San Antonio police scoured a landfill that contained trash from the hotel where Gabriel was last seen. The search turned up no body or other evidence.
“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.”