Video: Arrest tied to baby Gabriel case

  1. Closed captioning of: Arrest tied to baby Gabriel case

    >>> but let's begin with a new arrest connected to the disappearance of 8-month-old gabriel johnson , now missing for more than a month. nbc 's miguel almaguer has the details.

    >> i am innocent and god is with me.

    >> reporter: she was a person of interest, but now tammi smith is under arrest. arizona police have charged her with three felonies, including custodial interference in the case of 8-month-old gabriel johnson , the blond, blue-eyed baby hasn't been seen since december 26th , when his mother, elizabeth johnson , says she gave him away to strangers in san antonio . police don't believe smith was involved in the disappearance but say she did mislead investigators, and they say she was in contact with elizabeth as she drove from her home in arizona to texas, where the baby was last seen.

    >> tammi was basically working with her in order to provide a place for her potentially to go and some help along the way.

    >> reporter: police say the relationship between smith and johnson goes back months, when tammi and her husband first agreed to adopt gabriel , but when logan mcqueary, the baby's father, refused to give up custody, police say tammi smith pressured him as johnson drove to texas with baby gabriel . after johnson was arrested, smith spoke openly to the press.

    >> i think there's a lot of people to investigate and i haven't heard that they're investigating the few people that need to be investigated as deeply as jack and i have been.

    >> reporter: her attorney tells nbc news smith never intended to interfere with anyone's custodial rights and had only tried to convince johnson to bring baby gabriel back. late tuesday night, her husband spoke out.

    >> she will walk out of that jail. she will be completely exonerated from this. she will be apologized, and this will all be behind us.

    >> reporter: but now, both smith and johnson are in county jail and police say they're no closer to finding baby gabriel .

    >> we are less and less optimistic that gabriel 's still alive.

    >> reporter: for "today," miguel almaguer, nbc news.

updated 2/9/2010 3:04:48 PM ET 2010-02-09T20:04:48

Police began excavating a landfill Tuesday in search of a body or other evidence in the disappearance of an 8-month-old Arizona boy who was last seen with his mother at a San Antonio hotel on the day after Christmas.

Elizabeth Johnson, 23, was locked in a custody dispute with the baby's father when she took off from Tempe, Ariz., in mid-December. Johnson has refused to say where the baby is, but she told the father, Logan McQueary, that she killed the infant and threw his body in a trash bin — a story she later retracted in a media interview.

Police Chief William McManus said Tuesday that authorities began the arduous task of digging down through 45 feet of trash with hazardous material crews and cadaver dogs standing by. It will take at least six days to dig to the layer containing trash from the hotel. The hotel's trash, which is in a section that's been cordoned off for weeks, will be recovered and carefully sifted, he said.

"We do remain hopeful that Baby Gabriel is alive," McManus said at news conference near the landfill's edge. "We are, however, conducting a missing person investigation and a homicide investigation."

He declined to offer any details on the investigation, which began as a missing-person case but was reclassified as a homicide to allow for the landfill dig. McManus said leads have come in from a variety of sources and investigators are checking every one.

Safely conducting a landfill search requires careful planning and specially trained investigators, McManus said. Heavy rains, which create toxic run-off, also have been a concern, he said.

Johnson, who was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 30, is jailed in Arizona on charges of kidnapping, child abuse and custodial interference.

She told Phoenix television station KPHO that she gave the baby to a couple in a San Antonio park and only said she killed the boy to get back at McQueary, who had refused to give the baby up for adoption. Investigators say her descriptions of the purported hand-off were vague.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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