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Punishment Phase of Jessica Tata Trial Resumes; Tata’s Arson Background Revealed

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Jessica Tata who has now been convicted of murder in the death of a child in a fire at her home day care is one day closer to learning her punishment for the crime. Based upon testimony from others, Tata is no stranger to brushes with the law. According to testimony presented by the prosecution in the trial, Tata has a past history of arson.

This week, testimony revealed that Tata was convicted of at least one arson count due to her involvement in two fires on the same day. One of those fires was set in the restroom of suburban Houston high school.

A jury found the 24-year-old Nigerian-born day care owner guilty Tuesday of one count of felony murder. She could spend the rest of her life in prison.

The day care fire that killed four toddlers happened in February of 2011. Tata ran the day care at her Houston home. She stood trial this week for the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo who perished in the fire. The trials of the three other children that were killed in the fire have yet to be scheduled.

Three other toddlers were seriously injured as a result of the fire. According to prosecutors in the case, Tata left a pan of oil on a stove and then left the day care to go shopping at a Houston area Target store. Additional reports indicate that while Tata was shopping, the unsupervised children could be heard crying inside the burning home.

Tata’s defense attorneys argued that she never intended to hurt the children and even attempted to rescue them. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony and that action led to death. Tata reportedly showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was read this week.

Tata, who still faces three more counts of felony murder in relation to the other children who died, also faces three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child in terms of the children who were injured as a result of the fire.

During Tuesday’s punishment phase of the trial, testimony was heard from a witness that testified that Tata set two fires at Katy’s Taylor High School. The punishment phrase of the trial could last up to two weeks.

Cicely C. Mitchell, CBS Radio Houston

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