Exclusive: Day care owner breaks her silence

Day care owner Jessica Tata, 22, appeared in court on multiple charges from a deadly fire that killed four young children
April 21, 2011 9:50:46 AM PDT
For the first time since the deadly fire at her day care, Jessica Tata is speaking from behind bars, and she's talking only to Eyewitness News. On Wednesday we spoke to Jessica Tata at the jail on Baker Street -- her home since March 22. She is being held in the first floor medical ward and is still in isolation. She was surprisingly talkative and in good spirits although it's clear what happened -- the babies' deaths and injuries -- are weighing on her.

The last time we saw Tata was a month ago. She was in court and all eyes were on her, though she never looked back. Victims' relatives rejoiced in her capture.

Darlene Price, great-aunt of the fire victims, said, "No more running for Jessica Tata."

Now we're learning more about the circumstances behind her arrest, her state of mind and what she's been doing isolated in jail all this time.

"I'm doing well," Tata said. "I pray a lot."

Eyewitness News spoke to the 23-year-old for about a half hour inside the Harris County Jail. She's separated from the rest of the jail population. She was in good spirits but remorseful and struggling with how to express it.

Tata said, "Sorry is not enough. You can only say sorry so many times."

Tata faces multiple criminal charges, including murder, stemming from the February fire at her day care in west Houston. Four children died and three others were injured. Investigators say Tata left the stove on and the children alone while she shopped at a nearby Target.

Two days later she boarded a flight to Nigeria and spent the next three and a half weeks a free woman. While US and international law enforcement officers say they were searching for Tata, she told us they never found her. Rather, she turned herself in to Nigerian authorities, who then turned her over to the US embassy.

The first glimpse Houstonians got of Tata stateside was in a wig. When she was brought shackled and handcuffed to the Harris County jail, it had been confiscated, revealing a shaved head.

"In my culture when women are in mourning, they shave their heads," Tata explained.

She says she was grieving for the children.

Tata's brother and mother visit her often. She has not seen any of the children's parents.

"I would love to talk to them, but can't," Tata said. "I've been instructed not to talk to anyone involved in the case."

She also says jailers screen her visitors.

Tata would not tell us why she fled to Nigeria or why she left the kids that day. She knows what people think of her. Her attorney has said there is more to her story. She has pleaded not guilty and waits for her day in court.

Among the charges Tata faces are murder, reckless injury to a child and abandoning a child. She tells us her mother has two jobs to pay for her high profile defense attorney. Her next court date is May 12.


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