Month after month, Jozetta R. Byrd sat in the Ramsey County jail, accused of choking her 8-year-old daughter until the girl passed out, and then trying to kill her 3-year-old son.
During that time, Byrd lost her job and her home.
Then, after four months behind bars, Byrd was set free.
The Ramsey County attorney's office said charges were dropped and the case dismissed because the violent outburst was caused by what legal texts call "involuntary intoxication."
Byrd, 31, of Falcon Heights, no longer faces charges of second-degree attempted murder, first- and third-degree assault and domestic assault in the Feb. 7 incident.
In a one-paragraph filing, the county attorney's office explained the felony charges were not viable "in light of the defendant's involuntary intoxication at the time of the charged incident."
Byrd's lawyer said Monday that a new steroid in Byrd's asthma medication was the "intoxicant" that set off her attack.
The reaction to the steroid, prednisone, was so severe that Byrd was unable to "determine right from wrong," said her attorney, Mark Todd, who added that "involuntary intoxication" is rarely used by defense attorneys.
County attorney's office spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said Monday that "we were unable under the law to hold the defendant criminally responsible."
The office declined to say more about the case.
Byrd had no criminal record before this case, nor any history of violent behavior, Todd said.
The charges cost Byrd her job at a Caribou Coffee outlet, where "she was a well-liked employee and doing really well there," Todd said. "She lost her housing, too," he added, saying she's now living with family but not with her two children.
While the criminal proceedings are over, a child protection investigation grew out of the incident.
Because that case remains active, Byrd's children are not living with her, said Joanna Woolman, a professor and director of the child protection program at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, who is Byrd's attorney in the ongoing case.
According to the criminal charges, Byrd told police she couldn't recall what happened, wasn't using illicit drugs or alcohol and had no mental health issues.
Police interviewed a Hennepin County Medical Center social worker, who said Byrd's daughter explained that her mother grabbed her, pinned her to the floor, sat on her and choked her until she passed out.
"She stated that her mother tried to choke her little brother, but he got away," the criminal complaint said.
Byrd was jailed soon after the incident and held in lieu of $500,000. That amount was reduced a month later to $200,000, but was still too steep for Byrd to satisfy.
Meetings with doctors confirmed Byrd's "flare-up" reaction to the medication, Todd said, and "that persuaded the prosecutors to drop the case."
Todd said Byrd "was just yelling and extremely happy" when the two spoke after the county attorney's decision freed her June 22.
Before the charges were dropped, Todd notified prosecutors that he intended to present the "involuntary intoxication" defense, something he had never used in 34 years as an attorney.
"It's extremely rare," he said, noting that it shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense, which must clear a "more likely than not" threshold.
"I've seen maybe a couple of cases on it."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482