orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

State News

November 19, 2012

Prosecutor: Children left at day care were doomed

HOUSTON — Prosecutors on Monday asked a jury to sentence a Texas woman convicted of murder after a fire at her home day care killed four children to life in prison, arguing she doomed the children she was responsible for when she left them alone to go shopping before the deadly blaze broke out.

Defense attorneys for Jessica Tata countered she was a good person who made a terrible mistake and asked jurors to not be swayed by anger.

The jury began deliberating Tata's sentence after closing arguments in the punishment phase of her trial.

Tata could be sentenced from five years to life in prison. She was convicted last week of felony murder in the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo.

Prosecutors said the February 2011 fire that killed Elias started after Tata, 24, left a group of children alone with a pan of oil cooking on a hot stove while she went shopping at a nearby Target store. Along with the four children who died, three were injured in the Houston home day care fire.

"That day when she made the decision to leave, she doomed them, she doomed them," prosecutor Connie Spence told jurors, calling Tata's actions "inexcusable."

During her 40-minute closing argument, Spence talked about each child who died or was injured, showing jurors frozen video images of each one on TV screens in the courtroom.

"What each mom will do to hold their baby one more time," Spence, her voice choked by emotion, told jurors as the mothers of the children sat in the courtroom and cried. "What's a child's life worth? ... What we want is justice."

Mike DeGeurin, Tata's attorney, told jurors she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years old. He said Tata should not have left the children alone but that she went to the store for the children, to get them juice.

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