- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

A woman accused of kidnapping her 4-year-old child 14 years ago fled in self-defense from an abusive ex-boyfriend, her attorney said yesterday, as the trial began in one of the nation’s longest-running missing-child cases.

Mary Jane Byrd left the District in 1993 in a custody dispute with Carl Dodd over their daughter, Marilyn. Mr. Dodd did not know their whereabouts until last year, when U.S. marshals found Miss Byrd and her daughter living in Wilmington, Del. On April 12, 2006, Marilyn’s 17th birthday, Miss Byrd was arrested and charged with felony parental abduction. She faces up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted.

Mr. Dodd testified yesterday in D.C. Superior Court that he and Miss Byrd had a five-year relationship that ended a few months after their child’s birth in 1989. He described the trouble he had gaining access to his daughter when he came to Miss Byrd’s home for court-ordered visits after 1992, and how twice he called police to compel Miss Byrd to let him pick up Marilyn.

When Marilyn visited his home, Mr. Dodd said he and his new wife bought the child clothes suitable for a little girl when she “didn’t seem presentable,” and the child seemed “happy to be around her father,” he said.

After the court denied Mr. Dodd joint custody but granted extended visitation rights in 1993, Mr. Dodd said he repeatedly came to Miss Byrd’s home but was told by the child’s maternal grandmother that Miss Byrd and their daughter were no longer there. Mr. Dodd testified that he never stopped searching, with help from the police and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

When Miss Byrd and her daughter were found in Delaware, they represented themselves to the U.S. marshals with false names, Assistant D.C. Attorney General Jayme Kantor said.

But defense attorney Dehlia I. Aghadiuno implored the jury to consider “the other side of the story.” She said her client endured years of abuse at the hands of her child’s father, to the point where Miss Byrd feared for her and Marilyn’s lives. Miss Aghadiuno presented a 1992 civil protection order that prohibited Mr. Dodd from molesting, assaulting or threatening Miss Byrd or her child.

Miss Byrd, wearing a black suit, looked to the side as Mr. Dodd testified and often closed her eyes. She cried steadily throughout the day, loudly weeping at times when her attorney asked Mr. Dodd about whether he hit, sexually assaulted, or verbally abused her in specific scenarios.

Miss Byrd reacted most to her attorney’s description of a 1993 incident in which he said Mr. Dodd came to Miss Byrd’s home, threw her against the porch wall, put a gun to her head and threatened to kill her.

Mr. Dodd denied everything except for one verbal threat he said he made in 1992 “out of frustration” of not being able to see Marilyn.

Mr. Dodd, too, wept as he remembered receiving the news that Marilyn had been found last year. He recalled how hurt he felt when he went to Delaware for a reunion hoping that his now-teenage daughter would accept him, but instead was greeted coldly and with one-word answers.

“I was just somebody, not a father who was looking for his daughter,” Mr. Dodd said on the stand. “She was still daddy’s little girl, but she was a grown girl now.”

Mr. Dodd allowed his daughter to stay in her mother’s home in Delaware after she was found last year, even though he was granted sole custody in 1994, a year after Miss Byrd fled.

He said he and Marilyn went to counseling sessions in Delaware and slowly began talking more. But after her 18th birthday last month, Marilyn cut off communication with her father. Neither looked at the other in court yesterday.

The trial resumes Monday.

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