If prosecutors and JoAnn McGuckin's defense attorneys can work out a deal that would allow the Idaho woman to be reunited with her family and avoid a jail sentence, she won't be going back to live on the 40-acre lakefront property that was the scene of a five-day standoff between six children, a pack of dogs and police last month.
That land was sold 10 months ago.
Current and former county officials say it didn't have to be that way, though they disagree on who is more to blame, the county or JoAnn McGuckin and her husband Michael, who died last month.
JoAnn McGuckin was in Bonner County Court today for a hearing on the felony charge of causing injury to a child, and her children are also scheduled for a hearing to decide who will have custody of them.
Bonner County prosecuting attorney Phil Robinson and Bryce Powell, the court-appointed lawyer representing McGuckin, both said they hoped to work out a deal to allow the 42-year-old woman to avoid charges and possibly regain supervised custody of her kids before the court appearances. But it seems those efforts failed.
McGuckin has been in jail since May 29, when she was lured from her home by county officials with the promise of money for food and then was arrested. Though law enforcement authorities said her children were starving, when the youngsters finally allowed police to take them into custody, health-care workers said they were not in a life-threatening condition.
The 40-acre plot the McGuckins lived on, which sits on Beaver Lake between Sagle and Sandpoint, was sold at auction by the county in September 2000 to a New Jersey couple for $53,000, according to country treasurer Shannon Syth.
Michael McGuckin, who died on May 12 after suffering for years from multiple sclerosis, quit deeded the land to an Oregon man named James Stewart in 1996 after the family first started to fall behind in their taxes.
Some payments were made after the name on the property changed, but by May 1999 the bill was about $5,000, and the county tax deeded the property, Syth said. According to current and former county officials, the McGuckins had refused to take advantage of offers of help that could have allowed them to keep the land.
When to Bend the Law
The McGuckins could have had the tax debt forgiven if they filled out an indigent request, but the family refused repeated efforts from county officials and from some of their neighbors to get them to fill out the form, according to commissioner Tom Suttmeier.
"They wouldn't accept assistance from anyone," he said. "I think what you're dealing with here is just an extreme case of paranoia. There's just a resident distrust of government in any form."
Former commissioner Bud Mueller, who served on the board of commissioners when the property was tax deeded, said the county could have done more for the family. He said the commissioners could have forgiven the debt even without the form.
"We used to do it all the time for families that were in a bad way," Mueller said. "I said, 'We're going to make them homeless and it's going to cost us tens of thousands of dollars by the time we're through with it.'
"They told me, 'We have to obey the law.' Well, no we don't. We're commissioners," he said.
A Quick Sale