Woman convicted of murder in Texas daycare fire that killed four children

Reuters News

11/13/2012 3:22:51 PM - Reuters News

By Deborah Quinn Hensel

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas jury found a woman guilty of murder on Tuesday in the death of an 18-month-old boy - one of four children who died in a fire after being left unattended at a daycare center.

Jessica Tata, 24, the owner of the Houston daycare center, was found guilty in the death of toddler Elias Castillo, who was supposed to be under her care on February 24, 2011.

Tata left nine small children unattended to go shopping at a Target store, according to evidence.

Prosecutors presented evidence that a pot of hot oil left on a burner at the daycare caught on fire while she was away.

The other victims were Shomari Dickerson, 3; Elizabeth Kajoh, 20 months; and Kendyll Stradford, 20 months. Some of the five other children in the home daycare center at the time were injured.

Tata was stoic while hearing the verdict but parents of the deceased children wept softly behind her.

Tata, the U.S.-born daughter of Nigerian citizens, fled the country after the fire. She had been the subject of an Interpol search for almost a month and was placed on the U.S. Marshals Service list of the top 15 most wanted fugitives before she was captured in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, in March 2011 and extradited to Texas. She has been in jail without bond since returning to the United States.

During the trial, Tata's attorney, Mike Degeurin, said that the fire was accidental, caused by faulty wiring in kitchen appliances and not the pot of hot oil. He admitted that Tata should not have left the children alone.

She faces a possible punishment of five to 99 years in prison. Tata could still be tried in the other three deaths.

(Editing by Greg McCune)