Day care owner indicted on four murder charges for fatal fire

June 1, 2011 5:02:47 PM PDT
A Harris County grand jury has indicted the day care owner accused in a fatal fire on four felony murder charges, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Jessica Tata is charged with murder in connection to the February deaths of four children in a fire at her in-home day care. Three other children were also injured. Tata fled to Nigeria in the days following the blaze and was eventually captured and returned to Houston.

"The grand jurors spent a great deal of time carefully evaluating the testimony and the evidence in these cases. I appreciate their thoroughness and hard work," Harris County Assistant District Attorney Carl Hobbs said in a prepared statement.

Tata, 22, pleaded not guilty to the initial charges back in March.

Last Friday, a judge ruled that Tata's $1.1 million bond would stand after denying bond reduction at a hearing.

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 pot of oil left on a lit stove-top burner.

Eighteen-month-old Elias Castillo, 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford, 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson and 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh all perished in the fire.

The range of punishment for the new indictments is from five years to life in prison if convicted. Tata is expected to appear in court for her arraignment on July 8.

Tata is also facing two civil lawsuits from the parents of the victims.

Jessica Tata's attorney did not return our phone calls.

City passes ordinance to protect children

Not only was Jessica Tata indicted Wednesday in the deaths of four children, but the city of Houston plans to do more to protect other children who go to home day cares.

Tata's indictment Wednesday on four counts of felony murder came a little more than three months after four toddlers under her care died in that horrible fire at her in-home day care.

"It won't bring the children back. People are responsible for their actions," said Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell.

She says the indictments are important, but what's more important is what the city can do to help prevent such tragedies in the future. On Wednesday, City Council passed an ordinance requiring home daycares to pay a $100 inspection fee and get inspected by the Houston Fire Department every year.

"In talking to our fire chief, he believes this is an appropriate role for our fire department," said Mayor Annise Parker.

Tata's day care, like all home day cares, was already inspected by the state. But the new city ordinance means within city limits, there will be another set of eyes on home day cares.

"If we can do anything to make children safer, then that's what we can do in City Council and I believe that's what we're doing," said Lovell.

The new ordinance will require the fire department to look for fire code violations such as smoke detectors and clearly marked exits. No one knows if this would have prevented the February fire at Tata's day care, but the city hopes no other tragedies occur down the road.


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