A woman whose arrest on a child neglect charge touched off a five-day standoff between sheriff's officers and six of her children was released from jail without condition Thursday after a judge reduced the charge against her.
After hearing conflicting testimony from two of JoAnn McGuckin's teenage daughters, 1st District Judge Debra Heise held that there was insufficient evidence to support the more serious felony neglect charge. She reduced it to a misdemeanor.
"I find the state failed to sustain its burden that the conditions were likely to cause death or great bodily injury," the judge said.
The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $300 fine. McGuckin pleaded innocent Thursday to the reduced charge.
McGuckin said she would stay at a motel. While the criminal charge restrictions on her contact with her children have been removed, a child custody case continues, so she was not able to see them.
"It's one step in the right direction," she said.
"I'm almost bewildered," she added. "I've been in jail so long it feels like home. Other people have a piece of my life. I don't have my life back yet."
She said she would fight for custody at a hearing set for today. The six children have been in foster care since they ended their standoff June 2.
McGuckin, 46, had been in jail since her arrest May 29, though Heise offered to release her on her own recognizance weeks ago. McGuckin refused to accept release conditions that included supervision during any contact with her children.
Nineteen-year-old Erina McGuckin, who has left home and is the family's eldest daughter, testified Wednesday that her family lived in an "unsanitary . . . squalid" house without running water, with little or no heat and intermittent electricity.
Kathryn McGuckin, 16, testified Thursday that the family had been under extreme stress for several years because both parents were sick. That left some of the housecleaning and other chores undone for periods of time, she said.
The children's father, Michael McGuckin, died of multiple sclerosis in May.