By Deborah Quinn Hensel
HOUSTON (Reuters) - More than four decades after she was charged with murder for dousing her husband with a pot of hot grease, 76-year-old Mary Ann Rivera was brought to court in Houston on Friday to face the charges.
"She was a fugitive from a murder case and now she's a fugitive no longer," said Chuck Lowery, an investigator with the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
On Wednesday, Rivera was extradited back to Texas from Lake Park, Georgia, where she had fled with her children after the death of her husband, Cruz Rivera, in the fall of 1970. In the small town near the Florida border, she had evaded the law for 41 years. Rivera had no criminal history in Georgia, Lowery said.
The ailing, 5 feet, 1 inch tall septuagenarian is being held without bond after appearing in court in a wheelchair for her arraignment Friday, according to her attorney, Jules Johnson. She relies on an oxygen tank to breathe and cannot travel by plane, so Harris County Sheriff's Department officers drove her more than 700 miles back to Houston, Lowery said, where she faced charges of murder by omission.
The sheer number of felony arrest warrants facing investigators may have been a factor in Rivera's ability to stay under the radar so many years, Lowery said. Technology and the ease of accessing information from a variety of law enforcement databases have made it much easier to close cases that have been cold for decades, he said.
Rivera's was the oldest of 530 cold case files closed this week by Lowery's unit, the Fugitive Apprehension Section of the district attorney's office.
Another fugitive, Epifanio Jaime Arroyo, was arrested Wednesday at his home in Lawrenceville, Georgia, as a result of investigations by Lowery's unit and others. He has been brought back to Houston to be tried for the 1989 stabbing death of Miguel Frias, the Houston Police Department said Friday.
"If you are a fugitive from Harris County, you might as well surrender now." District Attorney Pat Lykos said in a statement.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)