- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Delaware woman charged in one of the longest missing-child cases in U.S. history was released from a halfway house yesterday while she awaits trial on charges that she kidnapped her daughter nearly 13 years ago.

Mary Jane Byrd, 35, was taken into custody April 12 when the U.S. Marshals Service raided the Wilmington, Del., home she shared with her mother and the daughter she is accused of hiding from the child’s father since fleeing the District in 1993.

Since Miss Byrd was arrested, Marilyn, 17, has remained with her grandmother, even though a Delaware Court has upheld father Carl Dodd’s rights under a 1994 custody order.

When Marilyn was 4, she was caught up in a bitter dispute between her parents over issues that included visitation and custody.

Court records indicate Miss Byrd failed to comply with a visitation order issued by a D.C. Superior Court judge in July 2003. She also failed to appear at a court hearing to address the issue that October.

“She has been on the run for some years now,” said Anthony Gagliardi, a prosecutor with the D.C. Attorney General’s Office.

If convicted, Miss Byrd faces up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Yesterday, Miss Byrd’s attorney waived a preliminary hearing in the case, but sought her immediate release from the halfway house where Miss Byrd has lived since a week after her return to the District from Delaware April 13.

“She didn’t go to Idaho. She didn’t get herself lost in Los Angeles,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Ronald A. Goodbread said during a detention hearing.

During a brief recess, Judge Goodbread placed a call to the halfway house director from the bench to discuss the contents of a letter supporting Miss Byrd’s release.

“She knew of no downside to releasing this woman,” Judge Goodbread later told the court.

The judge noted that the report indicated Miss Byrd had been “cooperative and compliant” throughout her stay at the halfway house, before ordering her to check in by telephone once a week until a Sept. 21 status hearing.

The judge also stipulated that Mr. Dodd be allowed visits with his daughter, who will be in the same home as her mother and grandmother.

“It’s not ideal, but the fact of the matter is that Ms. Byrd has been with her child all this time,” said Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.

Miss Hughes said that if Miss Byrd tries to block Mr. Dodd’s visits, she could be arrested by federal marshals.

Mr. Dodd was granted full custody in January 1994, but he was unable to locate Miss Byrd or his daughter.

His first contact with the child in 13 years was a few tense moments shared with her inside of a Wilmington police office on April 17. He was not in court yesterday.

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