Kids returned to mother; woman arrested

August 7, 2008 9:58:15 PM PDT
A Houston woman is behind bars accused of abducting five children she took in after hurricane Katrina. Rhonda Tavey's, 44, says she feared for their safety, so she took them from their biological mother. Thursday night, the biological mother Erica Alfonse, was reunited with her children. Her attorney says she must remain in the Houston area in order to stay with them.

The five Alphonse children arrived at a CPS facility around 3:30pm Thursday.

"I was happy to see them, they were glad to see me," she said.

Alfonse says she spent several weeks not knowing where her children were.

Alfonse and her attorney said they did not want to answer questions about some of Tavey's allegations of abuse and abandonment but CPS says those are allegations they must check out.

"There has to be some significant evidence that there might be abuse in that home, we can't just take them because someone might think they are a better parent than the other," said Estella Olguin with Child Protective Services.

The children spent the afternoon answering questions from special forensic interviewers. Alfonse was also questioned about her parenting skills.

"I'm a good mother, I'm like an old fashioned mom," she said.

Meanwhile Rhonda Tavey made her first court appearance in a probable cause hearing Thursday night. She spent the night being processed as a new inmate at the Harris County Jail.

Swarmed by television photographers, Tavey looked straight into their cameras as she was driven into jail. It was the first stop after Harris County Sheriff's deputies walked her out of her grandmother's house in handcuffs and under arrest.

"It's been a horrible day," said Edwina Ehmann who is Tavey's friend.

FBI agents found Tavey at the house on Northline in North Houston early Thursday afternoon. We are told she was doing laundry. Also inside were the five children, the subjects of the Amber Alert.

"Rhonda prayed with them and told them to be strong and that she would see them soon," said Ehmann.

The children, ages 3 to 8 were taken away first. One of the twins was still sleeping. In Tavey's last minutes with them, her attorney says she was calm and composed.

"She did not want the children to see her upset, her life revolves around these children," Tavey's attorney Todd Ward said.

It all happened less than 24 hours after Tavey was charged with five counts of kidnapping, accused of taking the children from their mother almost a month ago and disappearing. The charges came after ongoing negotiations with prosecutors broke down. Thursday morning those prosecutors went a step farther.

"Because Ms. Tavey was given the opportunity to turn herself in and did not choose that route, we requested no bond at this time," Assistant District Attorney Donna Hawkins explained.

The judge granted no bond. Tavey's attorney will try to change that.

"There is absolutely no reason why she should not get a bond," Ward said. "She has no criminal history, no prior arrest. She's just a great mother."

Family and friends are anxious for Tavey to be released from jail.

If convicted, Tavey could face two to ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

A local attorney with whom we spoke says if the case heads to court, the legal issue is did she actually kidnap them?

"The DA's office is going to have to prove the intent to abduct, and abduct is defined as secreting a victim, or using force to keep the victim," said attorney Kim Ogg.

Ogg went on to say, in her legal opinion, if Tavey simply took the children out of town, it's hard to allege kidnapping.

STORY FROM NOV. '06: Houston woman takes in Katrina evacuees

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