SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) _ With her child neglect charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, a newly freed JoAnn McGuckin turned her attention to winning back custody of her six children.
McGuckin, 46, left the Bonner County Jail on Thursday for the first time since her May 29 arrest, which triggered a five-day standoff between the children and sheriff's deputies at their rural Idaho home.
``It's one step in the right direction,'' she told reporters. ``We'll see where we go from here. I'm almost bewildered. I've been in jail so long it feels like home.''
She planned to meet with her lawyers to discuss how to win a custody hearing scheduled for Friday.
Magistrate Judge Debra Heise will decide whether the children remain wards of the state, are returned to their mother or placed elsewhere.
On Thursday, Heise reduced the felony child neglect charge against McGuckin to a misdemeanor and released her without bail.
Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson said the judge's decision to pursue the charge, even as a misdemeanor, was some vindication.
The ruling came after two days of conflicting testimony by experts and two of McGuckin's teen-age daughters at a court hearing.
Erina McGuckin, 19, described the family's lifestyle as ``squalid,'' with members eating rodent-infested food in a feces-covered house that had no running water and numerous health hazards.
Kathryn McGuckin, 16, acknowledged the same problems, which she said were the result of their poverty brought on by the illness of both parents. But she said the family generally had enough food and heat.
``This family needs to be put back together,'' said Bryce Powell, JoAnn McGuckin's lawyer.
Heise ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the felony neglect charge, although she did acknowledge the potential for serious health problems based on the family's living conditions.
``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 state has proven that their health may have been in danger.''
Kathryn McGuckin said the family's extreme stress had caused some of the housecleaning, laundry and other chores to remain undone for periods of time. The children's father, Michael McGuckin, died in May after a lengthy bout with multiple sclerosis.
The teen-ager said she was prepared to shoot anyone who attacked her brothers and sisters during the standoff. She said she test-fired two weapons in the house to make sure they worked.
``If someone started shooting, we had the right to shoot back,'' she 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. No trial date was set.
McGuckin had refused another judge's earlier offer to leave jail without bail on condition that visits with her children be supervised. Because of the custody dispute, she still cannot see the children without supervision.