Image: Mary Ann Rivera sits in a Houston courtroom on Friday.
Pat Sullivan  /  AP
Mary Ann Rivera adjusts her chain as she sits in a Houston courtroom waiting to appear before a judge on Friday. Rivera, 76, is charged with murder by omission in the 1970 death of her husband. Rivera had been a fugitive since she posted a $10,000 bond in 1970 following her indictment. Court records allege that Rivera was accused of killing her husband by "throwing hot grease on him and by throwing other substances and liquids." staff and news service reports
updated 10/21/2011 6:44:52 PM ET 2011-10-21T22:44:52

An elderly woman with an oxygen tank next to her sat in a Texas courtroom Friday after her four-decade run as a fugitive accused of murdering her husband by dousing him with hot grease came to an end.

Mary Ann Rivera made her first court appearance since being returned to Houston this week from Georgia, where she had been living since fleeing a murder charge in the October 1970 death of her husband, Cruz Rivera.

The 76-year-old, wearing an orange prison uniform and breathing in oxygen from a plastic tube that snaked from her nose and around her ears to a green tank on wheels, sat in a jury box with several other prisoners while her case was reset to Nov. 15. She will remain jailed without bond.

Rivera's friends and neighbors have said her various health issues include heart, back and breathing problems. Her health required that she be driven and not flown back to Houston.

Prosecutor Tina Ansari said the age of the case and possible witness issues could present some obstacles as authorities proceed in bringing Rivera to trial.

"An old case is never an easy case," she said.

Jules Johnson, one of Rivera's two public defenders, said he is still reviewing her case.

"It's a 40-year-old case. We have to sift through it," he said. He declined to comment further.

One of Rivera's sons, Mark Rivera, declined to comment when reached on Friday at his home in South Carolina.

One of her grandsons, who asked to remain anonymous, told WCTV that he felt "no ill feelings toward her."

"We understand what she did, and she told us her side of the story," he reportedly said. "My grandmother was always there for me. She was always there for all of us."

According to court records, Rivera was accused of killing her husband by "throwing hot grease on him and by throwing other substances and liquids."

Cruz Rivera died several days later from liver problems that had been caused by his serious burns, Ansari said. Ansari said Rivera threw the hot grease on her husband after getting angry with him at their home. Ansari declined to comment on what caused the fight.

Authorities have said that Rivera had previously made some claims of abuse but that law enforcement was never called to the couple's Houston home on allegations of domestic violence.

Lorraine Robertson, one of Rivera's friends in Georgia, said the woman had indicated that her husband had slapped her once but "that was it."

Authorities say that after Rivera was indicted in November 1970, she posted a $10,000 bond and fled Houston with her three children, including twin sons. She eventually made her way to Lake Park, Ga., near the Florida border.

Friends in Georgia said Rivera worked as a waitress, raised her children and never spoke about her husband or her life in Texas until she was questioned by investigators before her arrest.

Rivera continued living in her Lake Park apartment until an investigator with the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston worked on the cold case for a couple of years, first tracking down Rivera's sons and eventually finding her Georgia address.

Officials with Georgia's Lowndes County Sheriff's Office arrested Rivera on Oct. 11 after being contacted by Houston police.

Rivera's arrest was the second in less than a week in a cold case being investigated by the district attorney's office's fugitive apprehension section. On Thursday, the DA's office said a 55-year-old man was arrested, also in Georgia, for a 1980 slaying near a Houston night club.

"If you are a fugitive from Harris County, you might as well surrender now," said District Attorney Pat Lykos.

Since the unit was formed in 2009, more than 40 fugitives have been arrested and returned to Harris County.

The Associated Press and staff contributed to this report.


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