Day-care blaze suspect brought back to Texas

Image: Jessica Tata
Authorities believe Jessica Tata fled to Nigeria two days after the Feb. 24 fire.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman who was an international fugitive for nearly a month after a fire at her Houston home day care center killed four children returned to Texas on Tuesday ahead of her first court appearance.

Jessica Tata is being held without bond in a Houston jail, said agency spokesman Alfredo Perez.

"We're very glad that it worked out as smoothly as it did," Perez said of Tata's return to the U.S.

Tata was set to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in state district court on 14 charges, including manslaughter. The Feb. 24 blaze also injured three other children in her care.

Court records did not show Tata had an attorney. Her brother, Ron Tata, did not immediately return a telephone call on Tuesday.

Investigators say Tata went shopping and left the seven children alone. When she returned, a stove-top burner had ignited the blaze.

The 22-year-old day care operator, who has U.S. and Nigerian citizenship, fled to the West Africa country two days after the fire.

The U.S. Marshals Service, which headed the search for Tata, said a series of tips and other information helped Interpol agents to capture her on Saturday

Her family says she turned herself in.

Tata was returned to the U.S. early Monday morning.

After a brief stop in Atlanta, Tata was flown back to Houston on a government plane late Monday evening, accompanied by four members of the U.S. Marshals Service's Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force, Perez said.

She was then taken to the Harris County Jail in downtown Houston wearing a bulletproof vest. Perez said the vest was a precautionary measure and that there had been no specific threats against Tata.

At a brief, 4 a.m. hearing on Tuesday, a magistrate judge ordered that Tata continue to be held without bond, officials said. Tata did not attend the hearing, which lasted less than a minute, because she was still being processed into the jail.

Tata has a cell to herself for her own protection because of the high profile nature of her case, said Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

A deputy will also accompany Tata at all times when she is out of her cell, Garza said.

Besides manslaughter, Tata has also been charged with injury to a child and child abandonment. The manslaughter and injury to a child charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Tata had been on the U.S. Marshals' list of the 15 most wanted fugitives and the agency had offered a reward of up to $25,000. The agency said it has received some claims for the reward money and it is working through them to determine their validity.