Tammi Smith, the Arizona woman who helped Elizabeth Johnson try to terminate Logan McQueary’s parental rights and adopt his child, was sentenced to serve 30 days in prison for her multiple felony convictions arising out of the case. Read about it here (CNN, 7/6/12). In May, Smith was convicted by a jury of forgery and conspiracy to deny McQueary access to his son Gabriel who was nine months old at the time Elizabeth Johnson kidnapped him. Since then, Johnson claimed she killed the little boy but then recanted the claim. She now claims she gave him to a couple in San Antonio, Texas. In the almost two years since his disappearance, no one has seen Gabriel.
Smith and her husband have one adopted child and apparently she wanted another. She claims to have tried legitimate adoption procedures, but has never explained why she was unsuccessful at adopting one of the millions of children worldwide who have no parents to care for them. Her claim rings uniquely hollow given the fact that she and her husband succeeded in adopting before.
But whatever the case, she wanted Logan McQueary’s and Elizabeth Johnson’s son. Johnson was happy to oblige given the fact that she wanted to be rid of Gabriel, but didn’t want McQueary to have him. Exactly what her reasons were for trying to cut McQueary out of Gabriel’s life aren’t clear, but I suspect the obligation of child support weighed heavily in Johnson’s decision. So she and Smith hatched a plot to transfer Gabriel to Smith while simultaneously terminating McQueary’s rights. That’s called adoption. Their plan was to forge adoption papers filed with the court saying a cousin of McQueary was the baby’s father. McQueary has always asserted his right and his strong desire to be an active father to his son.
Smith’s plans went awry and Johnson snatched Gabriel and fled to Texas. Somewhere along the way, she got rid of Gabriel, in whatever manner, and was eventually captured in Florida. She’s been in jail ever since awaiting trial on kidnapping and related charges.
That brings us back to Smith who, for her part in the whole sordid mess, could have been sentenced to as much as 7 1/2 years in prison. To some of us, Smith’s behavior looks pretty serious. After all, she lied to a court for the sole purpose of stealing a child from his father. If I were the judge, I’d have considered Smith’s actions worthy of real punishment. That would have been all the more true if I found that Smith really didn’t seem to understand or much care that what she did was terribly wrong. And sure enough, that’s just what happened when Smith addressed the court at her sentencing hearing.
The defendant addressed the court Friday, admitting that she helped Johnson and helped care for Gabriel for nine days. She began with a lengthy discussion of her Christian faith and criticism of “certain people hiding behind fake profiles on the internet” and others who have maligned her.
Smith, 40, 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.”
What does it say about a person who tries to use her Christian faith as her defense to forgery and child theft? Of course we see jailhouse conversions every day, many of which are nothing but cynical ploys to try to get a light sentence, an early parole or other leniency. But however many of those conversions we see in the papers, judges in criminal cases see far more of them, which is why I’d expect Maricopa County Judge Joseph Kreamer to do little more than roll his eyes at Smith’s playing the faith card.
And in fact, Kreamer wasn’t impressed at all by Smith’s act.
But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer questioned whether Smith truly accepted what she’d done, in denying the boy’s father access to his child.
“There are times in the world that it’s important to simply say I am sorry. You can look to the McQuearys to say what happened to you is awful, I’m sorry. … I didn’t hear that from you,” the judge said…
“But it is a crime when you set out to harm somebody’s right to their child, and without knowing everything,” he said.
Then there is Smith’s claim that she “never intended to hurt anybody.” No Ms. Smith, actually that’s exactly what you intended to do. You intended to hurt Logan McQueary at the very least and Gabriel too. How is it you claim that stealing the child from an imperfect but loving father is not intended to hurt him? Of course it would have hurt him and you know it. You knew it at the time. Your claim otherwise is of the same coin as your claim to be a good Christian – counterfeit.
But however much Tammi Smith lied about Gabriel’s paternity, however much she lied at her sentencing hearing and however much Judge Kreamer saw through the charade, it didn’t much matter. He gave her 30 days plus three years probation on two of her convictions, which is to say, the lightest of taps on the wrist. Judge Kreamer sent a message loudly and clearly: as long as it’s in the service of depriving a fit father of his parental rights, you can do pretty much anything and the law won’t take much notice.
It’s a message we hear every day from family courts around the world.