PHOENIX (AP) — The would-be adoptive mother of an Arizona baby missing for more than two years was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail.
Tammi Peters Smith, 40, faced between one and 7½ years in prison stemming from her May conviction on charges of forgery and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer instead sentenced Smith to the jail term and three years of supervised probation for custodial interference, plus three years of supervised probation and 30 days deferred jail for the forgery conviction. He also said Smith was eligible for work release.
Kreamer said a prison term was unwarranted because Smith had no previous criminal record. He also said Smith’s deferred jail term could go away with good behavior and mental health counseling.
Prosecutors painted Smith as an “obsessed” woman who would stop at nothing to win custody of the boy. Defense attorneys said she was just looking out for the child and his mother.
Gabriel was 8 months old when he was last seen in December 2009 in San Antonio.
The boy’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, had told the boy’s father that she killed Gabriel and dumped him in a trash bin, but later recanted and said she gave the baby to a couple in San Antonio. Johnson’s attorney maintains that the latter story is the truth.
Gabriel has never been found, and police do not know whether he is alive. A search at a landfill didn’t turn up anything.
Smith, of Scottsdale, was taken away in handcuffs Friday to begin her jail sentence and didn’t speak to reporters.
Smith had been seeking to adopt Gabriel before Johnson left Arizona with him. Prosecutors accused her of lying on a court document about the possible paternity of the baby in an effort to keep Gabriel away from his father, Logan McQueary, who testified against Smith.
She offered to adopt Gabriel from Johnson in June 2009 when the two met during a long layover in Boston’s airport. Johnson didn’t decide to take her up on it until six months later, the same month Gabriel disappeared.
Johnson, who turns 26 this month, signed over temporary guardianship of Gabriel to Smith and her husband for about 10 days before she picked him up and left Arizona. McQueary called police after he found Johnson’s Tempe trailer empty.
Investigators said that Johnson drove the boy to San Antonio, stayed about a week then took a bus to Florida without him. She was arrested on Dec. 30, 2009, in Florida and returned to Arizona.
Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges of child abuse, kidnapping and custodial interference; her trial is set to begin in September.
Although the judge ruled that Smith was eligible for probation, the jury in the case found that there were aggravating factors, opening her up to a harsher penalty. The aggravating factors were that the crimes caused emotional harm and an accomplice was involved.
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