Woman guilty of 1 of 4 deaths in day care fire
HOUSTON — A Texas woman was convicted of murder on Tuesday in the death of one of four children who died in a fire at her home day care after she left them alone with hot oil on the stove while she shopped at Target.
Neighbors said they could hear children crying inside the burning Houston home but couldn't reach them. The fire killed 16-month-old Elias Castillo and three other children. Three more were seriously injured.
Jurors began hearing evidence in the punishment phase of Jessica Tata's trial on Tuesday afternoon, more than an hour after their verdict for a murder conviction was announced. They found Tata, 24, guilty of one count of felony murder.
Tata had no visible reaction as the guilty verdict was read. Some of Elias' family and relatives of other victims present in the courtroom began to cry.
“We're thankful for today's verdict,” said Nancy Villanueva, one of Elias' aunts. “We're happy.”
Defense attorney Mike DeGeurin said he accepted the jury's decision and would now focus on sentencing.
“She's never lost sight of the real victims,” DeGeurin said of Tata. “She hasn't forgotten that. It's not all about her.”
Tata's attorneys argued that she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years, and that she tried to save them. But prosecutors didn't need to show she intended to harm the children — only that the deaths occurred because she put them in danger by leaving them alone. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she commits an underlying felony and the action leads to death.
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments â either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.