Charge dropped against Ga. woman in Texas death

November 4, 2011 - 7:55 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — The murder charge against an ailing 76-year-old woman who spent more than four decades on the run after being accused of killing her husband by dousing him with hot grease was dismissed Friday.

Mary Ann Rivera, who needs an oxygen tank to help her breathe, was arrested Oct. 11 after a Texas investigator tracked her down in Lake Park, Ga. She was brought back to Houston to face the murder charge.

Prosecutors claim Rivera threw grease on her husband, Cruz Rivera, in October 1970 at their home in Houston. He died several days later from liver problems caused by his burns. Authorities say she fled with her three children, including twin sons, after being indicted in November 1970 and eventually made her way to Georgia.

Authorities say Rivera had made some claims of abuse but police were never called to the couple's home on allegations of domestic violence.

Jules Johnson, one of Rivera's public defenders, said District Judge Mary Lou Keel dismissed the charge because too much time had elapsed between Rivera's indictment and her arrest, making it difficult for her to put on a defense.

Johnson had filed a motion saying Rivera's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated in the case.

Rivera was not in the courtroom when the hearing was held because she was running low on oxygen in her tank. Johnson said he told Rivera about the ruling afterward.

"She was incredibly grateful and very tearful," Johnson said.

Prosecutors did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Rivera, who has been held without bond since her arrest, could be released by Friday evening, said officials with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Johnson said Rivera moved to Georgia before she was indicted — not after, as authorities have claimed — and wasn't trying to hide from police.

"She did deny adamantly from the beginning being responsible for the death of her husband," he said.

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

Her friends said she 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.

Johnson said Rivera plans to return to Georgia.