HOUSTON -- The Harris County District Attorney’s Office says it’s confident it will be able to extradite a wanted day care operator back to Harris County, but according to an expert on extradition, it may not be easy.
Jessica Tata is facing 10 criminal charges in connection with the Feb. 24 deadly fire at a day care center she operated. Four children died and three others were injured.
Court documents reveal that Tata left the children alone and went to the grocery store. When she returned, the house was on fire.
Investigators said a stovetop was left on with a pot with oil in it on a burner. According to arson investigators, that was the source of the fire.
After the fire, investigators said Tata left the country. She could be in Nigeria.
The United States Marshal’s Office is following up on leads and creating a profile to try and find her.
If they do find her, one expert said getting her back to Harris County could take years.
“It’s not going to be easy if she decides she wants to challenge it," said Douglas McNabb, an international extradition lawyer.
Tata is charged with seven counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of child endangerment.
The treaty between the United States and Nigeria is 76 years old. There are 27 extraditable crimes on the list. The ones that Tata is charged with are not included on that list.
“I would have thought we would have had a more current treaty,” said McNabb.
However, McNabb said the Texas charges don’t have to be exactly like the offenses that are set out in the extradition treaty.
Prosecutors could word the charges to fit one of the crimes on the list. Manslaughter, maliciously wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm, child stealing and abandoning are on the list.
“It depends on the language used in the charging document and the facts that are set out,” he said.
“The state could argue that she abandoned the children when she went to the store. I’m a defense attorney and if I were in Nigeria working with Nigerian counsel I would argue that she did not abandon the children, she left with intent to return.”
McNabb said, if Tata doesn’t fight extradition and is found soon, she could be back in Harris County in as few as 30 days. If she fights it, McNabb said it could take as many as two years -- longer than some of the fire victims lived.
“The reckless injury resulted in the death of a child and there are a variety of mechanisms to bring somebody back, in addition to extradition, beyond that I don’t want to say,” said Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos. “I don’t want to jeopardize the arrest and return of that woman to Harris County.”