- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A woman accused of illegally taking her daughter from the District to Delaware 14 years ago in one of the country’s longest-running missing-child cases was acquitted yesterday of parental kidnapping.

Mary Jane Byrd left the District in 1993 with her then 4-year-old child, Marilyn, during a bitter custody dispute with the girl’s father, Carl Dodd. Miss Byrd said during the trial that she fled to escape years of physical abuse from Mr. Dodd, who denied ever harming her.

Miss Byrd, 36, shouted, “Oh, thank you, Jesus,” and collapsed sobbing into the arms of her attorney as the D.C. Superior Court jury returned its verdict after 45 minutes of deliberation.

Leaving the courtroom, Miss Byrd wept and hugged her daughter tightly, telling reporters, “God has delivered me.”

Mr. Dodd, of Fort Washington, had searched for his daughter since she and Miss Byrd left the area. U.S. Marshals arrested Miss Byrd at her mother’s house in Wilmington, Del., on April 2, 2006, Marilyn’s 17th birthday. Miss Byrd could have been sentenced to a year in prison and fined $5,000.

Standing outside the courthouse as Miss Byrd walked past, Mr. Dodd said the jury likely was swayed by the accusations of abuse, which he claimed were false.

“The jury believed all the lies Mary told,” he said. “She still has to answer to the man upstairs about the lies she told.”

The 1-week trial exposed a troubled five-year relationship between Mr. Dodd and Miss Byrd. They broke up shortly after Marilyn was born in 1989, and they began sparring over custody of the girl shortly afterward.

Mr. Dodd testified that he had to call police twice to force Miss Byrd to allow him to pick up Marilyn for his court-ordered visits. In 1993, Mr. Dodd was granted full custody of the girl. Shortly afterward, Miss Byrd and Marilyn disappeared.

Miss Byrd told jurors that Mr. Dodd once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her, and abused her and his daughter.

Miss Byrd testified that she fled because she feared for her life, moving among motels in Delaware. She schooled the girl herself to avoid detection by authorities, and worked under a false last name.

Mr. Dodd admitted to only one infraction: a 1992 verbal threat he said was made out of “frustration.” Other than that, he said, “I did nothing wrong.”

Mr. Dodd said he has had no contact with his daughter since she legally became an adult when she turned 18 last month. When they first met last year after Miss Byrd’s arrest, Mr. Dodd said, his daughter was cold and sullen. They did not speak after the verdict, and Marilyn left the courthouse with her mother.

“I feel as though if she wants to talk, I’ll be here,” Mr. Dodd said.

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