MISSION — Jamie Rosales kissed her three crying children good-bye, gave a relative a final hug and hobbled toward an awaiting car that would escort her across the Anzalduas International Bridge.
After four months on the run, the 22-year-old mother turned herself in to U.S. authorities Tuesday to face charges in connection with the death of her toddler son.
Ultimately, Rosales returned to seek medical attention for a leg injury she claimed her husband inflicted while the two were on the lam in Veracruz, Mexico, but she came with the realization she could still face jail time, said Raul Reyna Jr., a private investigator who tracked her down and negotiated her surrender.
“She was more afraid of what would happen to her if she stayed with him than if she came back to face the music,” he said.
Rosales’ surrender Tuesday comes at a potential turning point in the investigation into the death of her 2-year-old son, Eliseo. Sheriff’s deputies found the boy in August 2008 with fractures and bruises to his skull while Rosales’ 28-year-old sister, Mayra, was supposed to be babysitting.
Investigators believe Mayra Rosales — whose weight has been estimated at more than 800 pounds — struck him several times. She was charged with capital murder shortly after the slaying. A grand jury also indicted Jamie Rosales on charges of injury to a child, reasoning that she should have known better than to leave a toddler in the care of her bedridden sister.
But in recent months, prosecutors have mulled dramatically altering their case against the women.
At a pretrial hearing last month, state District Judge Ricardo Rodriguez gave prosecutors until Thursday to decide whether they wanted to pursue capital murder charges against the elder sister or pin them instead on Jamie Rosales, who Mayra’s defense attorneys have long accused of inflicting the fatal wounds.
Jamie Rosales’ decision to flee the country with her husband and three surviving children in January left an open question as to whether anyone would face a jury in the toddler’s death.
But hours after her return to the United States on Tuesday, government attorneys were still unsure how the case would go forward and whether her surrender would have an impact on Mayra Rosales’ pending trial date.
As Jamie Rosales crossed back onto U.S. soil just before noon, customs agents escorted her on crutches to a secondary inspection area. Texas Rangers and sheriff’s deputies stood by waiting to take her into custody.
She returned knowing she would likely spend the next several months in jail awaiting trial, said Reyna, the private investigator hired by a documentary film crew shooting a feature on Mayra Rosales’ case.
Through confidential informants in Mexico, he tracked Jamie Rosales and her husband, Eliseo Sr., to Veracruz last week and began negotiating her surrender. Reyna said Tuesday that the woman fled domestic abuse at her husband’s hand and met up early this week just south of the border with relatives who delivered her into his hands.
Before being booked in the jail, she was taken to a doctor for medical evaluation of her leg injuries.
Her arrest now assures she will appear for future court hearings, but Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said that it doesn’t necessarily mean she will face the more serious charge of capital murder.
Throughout the prosecution’s wavering on the case, Treviño has stood by his investigation and maintained that Mayra Rosales killed her nephew.
“All you can do is follow the evidence, and all the evidence leads us to Mayra,” he said. “This is one of those cases that will have to go to the jury to decide which side presents the best case.”
Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 587-9377.