Fugitive Day Care Owner In Flight For Houston

By Stephen Dean

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Jessica Tata

HOUSTON - Just over 24-hours after turning herself in to US authorities in Nigeria, fugitive day care owner Jessica Tata was in flight and returning to Houston, Local 2 Investigates reported Sunday evening.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who has routine contact with the U.S. State Department, said she received word that Tata's flight has left Nigeria and she is now enroute to Houston to face charges in last month's fire at Tata's daycare that killed four children.

Relatives of the 22-year-old daycare owner said yesterday that she had surrendered to a US Embassy in Nigeria, a fact that her mother confirmed for Local 2 Investigates.

The family did not answer calls or knocks at their door today or yesterday after confirming her surrender.

News of the surrender caused visible sighs of relief for those closest to the case. "Thank God," said a woman who lives next door to the daycare. She declined to give her name."I was really hoping she would turn herself in and do the right thing," she said.

"I'm glad to hear that. That's so awesome," said the neighbor, who added that it should provide closure to the victims' families and the daycare's neighbors.

Another neighbor who helped to console Tata as the fire was burning and children were dying said, "That's nice to know she turned herself in. I'm glad she's in custody, I think everybody is."She also declined to provide her name since she is expected to be called to testify at Tata's trial.

She said Tata, on the day of the fire, was terribly sad and shaken up and she "made it worse by leaving."

An expert on extradition treaties with Nigeria, University of Houston Law School Professor Jordan Paust suggested that any lawyer involved in her criminal defense in Houston may challenge the manner in which her rights to formal extradition proceedings were avoided.

Extradition processes drag out for months, so word of her being in flight for Houston means she is returning voluntarily or waiving extradition.

Paust said that could be challenged if she surrendered to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria to avoid a lynch mob.

US Marshals and Houston Police said they were preparing security for her arrival into Houston.

She is expected to be taken off the plane by Marshals and then booked into the Harris County Jail to face a judge on 10-felony charges, including Manslaughter, Abandoning Children, and Injury to a Child.

The Harris County District Attorney's office declined comment, saying prosecutors have not yet been formally notified that she is in custody or returning to Houston.

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