Judge sets bond in kidnapping case

August 8, 2008 10:12:38 AM PDT
A woman arrested on kidnapping charges for taking five young Hurricane Katrina survivors away from their mother after claiming the children were abused still believes she did the right thing, her defense attorney said Friday. But a prosecutor said Rhonda Tavey should have contacted authorities and let them investigate the accusations instead of fleeing with the kids. Tavey, 44, made her first court appearance Friday after being arrested a day earlier on five counts of kidnapping.

State District Judge Mike Anderson set bonds totaling $50,000 for Tavey -- $10,000 for each of the five kidnapping charges she faces.

"She's a little frustrated with the system right now, a little bit in disbelief," Todd Ward, Tavey's defense attorney, said after the brief court hearing. "She was doing everything she thought was in the children's best interest and yet she's in jail right now for doing that. But we are going to fight and we trust justice will prevail and she will be found not guilty."

Ward expected Tavey to be released on bond sometime Friday. Tavey was arrested in her grandmother's house in Houston after fleeing with the kids to the Dallas area. She has claimed in various media interviews that she took the children because their mother was abusive -- allegations the mother, Erica Alphonse, denies.

Tavey had been on her way to turn over the kids as well as turn herself in when she was arrested.

Officials said the children, ages 3 to 8, appeared to be in good health.

Tavey, who wore an orange jumpsuit and was handcuffed behind her back, said very little during Friday's court hearing. Members of her family, who were in the courtroom, declined to comment after the hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Jane Waters did not object to Tavey being released on bond since the children were returned safe to authorities Thursday.

After the court hearing, Waters told reporters that Tavey should have reached out to police or other authorities if she suspected the five children were in danger from their mother.

"You can't just flee in the middle of the night," Waters said. "You just can't do that."

Ward said there were no indications that Tavey had tried to report the alleged abuse to authorities.

Child Protective Services is investigating the allegations, but Waters said CPS so far has not found anything to substantiate Tavey's claims.

"At this time we feel satisfied with where the children are," she said. "Erica Alphonse is their mother. That's where they need to be."

But Ward said his client did reach out to authorities but that nothing was done.

The children had been living in Houston with Tavey for nearly three years under an agreement Tavey reached with their mother.

They reached the agreement after meeting in Reliant Park, where Tavey had been volunteering as an American Red Cross volunteer after thousands of displaced Louisiana residents poured into the state after the 2005 hurricane.

Tavey, who has two teenage daughters, was to care for the two boys and three girls while their mother sought to become self-sufficient in New Orleans.

Alphonse initially called Tavey her family's "guardian angel." But their arrangement soured when Tavey refused to return the children July 11.

Ward said Tavey was threatened with a knife by Alphonse on July 11 and that she was "scared for her life."

After nearly a month of negotiations to turn over the children failed, authorities issued an Amber Alert earlier this week.

If convicted, Tavey could face 2-10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

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

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