Bond reduction denied for day care owner

May 27, 2011 7:46:18 PM PDT
Day care owner Jessica Tata is charged with murder for the February deaths of four children in a fire at her home. New information came out Friday during a bond hearing and it's been very difficult at times for those who are in the courtroom.

Tata was trying to get her $1.1 million bond reduced so she can get out of jail. During the hearing, Tata's attorney argued the bonds are illegally excessive and should be reduced to $50,000.

However, a judge ruled late Friday afternoon that Tata's bond would not be reduced.

Included in Friday's court hearing were witnesses and evidence, but the most chilling moment was the 911 call Tata made from the burning home day care that day in February, in which you could hear children screaming.

Tata could be heard saying, "They're dying! I can't see anything. I can't see them. Oh my gosh. Come here! I can't see them. They're all babies.

"Please hurry. They're everywhere. I'm coming. Come here. Please help me...My babies are here. I'm here. Oh my gosh, they're burning! The kids are all dying.

"What do I do? They're babies! Won't they die from the smoke?" Tata screams.

Then the call ends.

Afterwards, the children's families left the courtroom. The mother of victim Elias Castillo was inconsolable.

"They want her to receive her punishment, but they feel in order for them to move forward that they have to forgive her. But they still want justice," said a family's attorney.

After a day of testimony, the decision came down to three words: Bond reduction denied.

"I'm happy. She ain't going nowhere. Everything is in God's hands and God has everything covered," said Keshia Brown, mother of one of the victims.

Tata will remain in jail on nine charges related to the Feb. 24 fire that also injured three children. Authorities believe the 23-year-old left all seven children in her care alone while she went shopping, and the fire was ignited by a stove-top burner that was left on.

Details emerge of Tata's flight to Nigeria

For every life lost and every child injured, there was a family member in court. And there was Tata, wearing handcuffs and her hair cropped short. Friday's bond reduction hearing revealed evidence that will be part of the trial, starting with her flight to Nigeria.

An officer with the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force testified, saying that Tata took a Delta flight from Dallas to Lagos, Nigeria, on February 26 with a possible return flight on March 18.

Tata claims she turned herself in, but that officer testified she was tracked to her father's compound, that he told Interpol where to find her, and she was taken into custody.

Flight risk is why the state opposes her release on bond, as do the families of the four children who died in the fire in February.

"They believe in the system. They want to see this system have a chance, to have an opportunity to do what we all feel should be done and what it will do eventually," said one of the victim's attorneys.

The prosecution painted Tata as deceptive from the start, beginning at the hospital the night of the fire. On the stand Friday, HFD fire investigator Dorian Green testified.

    Green: She stated she was in shock and didn't know why she was in the hospital.
    Prosecutor: Was there any evidence she was in shock?
    Green: Personally, no.

Green recorded an initial interview with Tata at the hospital.

    Green: You're in shock from what?
    Tata: I don't know.
    Green: Do you know about an incident at a Houston day care?
    Tata: Someone said something about it, but I don't know anything. They won't tell me why I'm here (at hospital).

The officer said he also interviewed Tata's mother and sister, who both said they didn't know where Tata was, but they assumed she was in Nigeria based on news reports. He testified that Tata's brother, Ronald, kept avoiding interviews, saying he was too busy with work.

The officer said Tata has lots of family in Nigeria, possibly including a family member on the Nigerian Supreme Court. He said that six weeks into the search, Interpol agents found an airline ticket with Jessica's name on it in her father's "compound." Her father confessed, saying Tata was staying with a friend. Nigerian officials, the officer testified, surrounded the friend's home and eventually detained Tata.

Jessica Tata's brother, Ronald, also testified Friday afternoon. Despite previous denials, Ronald Tata admitted he helped his sister go to Nigeria. He said he drove her to Dallas and gave her $800. He said they decided Nigeria was the safest place for her to be at that time.

In addition, Ronald Tata said he never spoke to Jessica while in Nigeria. He communicated only with their father, whom he knew to be in communication with her. Ronald Tata says he told his father that Jessica faced multiple felony charges two to three days after she was charged. However, she wasn't taken into custody in Nigeria for another three weeks.

Also testifying on Friday was a member of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office who discussed a pair of fires that Tata was later found to have set at her school in Katy. Apparently, Tata went into two different bathrooms and set the fires on the same day. The attorney for Tata fought to keep that out of testimony, but he lost that argument.

Victims' families file lawsuits

Jessica Tata is facing two civil lawsuits from the parents of the victims. Shomari Dickerson died in the fire and his sister Makayla was severely burned. Their mother is suing Tata and the state of Texas for negligence.

Another parent, whose son was burned, has also filed a lawsuit. She's going after Tata, her parents and her brother, claiming they all knew Tata wasn't fit to run the day care out of her home.


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