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After hours of deliberation, jurors in the Jessica Tata murder trial have found Tata guilty of murder in connection with the deadly fire at her home day care. The fire killed four toddlers back in 2011.
The jury in the Jessica Tata murder trial spent a little over four hours deliberating on the fate of Tata, weighing her guilt or innocence Monday afternoon. After dismissal for the day, jurors returned to the task at hand Tuesday morning. There seemed to be confusion stemming from the jury’s decision, but that confusion was quickly resolved and a guilty verdict was reached.
As family members from the young victims left the courtroom in tears, Tata reportedly showed no emotional reaction during the reading of the guilty verdict. In fact, additional reports indicate that Tata had showed little emotion throughout her trial.
Tata is charged with felony murder in the deaths of four children who died in a fire at her home daycare, but thus far, she has only stood on trial for one, Elias Castillo a toddler who was under the age two.
All of the young victims of the fire were under the age of four. Three toddlers survived the fire but were injured. The fire broke out after Tata left the children alone to go shopping. Surveillance cameras showed Tata entering and leaving an area store shopping for goods.
During the closing arguments of the trial, prosecutor Steve Baldassano reminded the jury of the losses the families of the victims are enduring as a result of Tata’s actions.
“She’s guilty find her guilty,” said Baldassano. “Hold her accountable for the death of 15-month-old Elias Castillo a child who will be frozen in time at 15 months forever. Find her guilty.”
However, members from Tata’s defense team claimed that the fire did not due to grease on the stove. Tata’s defense attorney Mike DeGeurin, attempted to shift focus from Tata’s proposed negligence and place that focus on the origin of the fire. He told the jury that the fire could have been caused by an electrical malfunction in the refrigerator or stove. He told the court that Tata did not commit murder but rather a deadly accident.
Nigerian-born Tata, 24, faces three additional counts of murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child. The trials on those charges have yet to be scheduled.
Shomari Dickerson, 3, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, Elizabeth Kojah, 20 months and Elias Castillo, 16 months, died in the fire at Jackie’s Child Care on Crest Park at Waypark Drive on February 24, 2011.
Tata’s murder conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. The punishment phase of the trial is slated to begin Tuesday afternoon and could possibly last for two weeks.
Cicely C. Mitchell/ CBS Radio Houston