Day care owner accused in fatal fire appears in court

Jessica Tata appeared in court earlier this year
July 13, 2011 3:14:06 PM PDT
Jessica Tata was back in court Wednesday morning. The former day care owner is charged with murder over the deaths of four children in a fire at her in-home day care. The proceedings were very short. The arraignment took only about 20 minutes, but it was an extremely emotional day in court, especially for the family of the little victims. And for the first time since she has appeared, Tata cried in court.

Jessica Tata was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and handcuffs, and was wearing her hair differently. She sat first with a straight face as the prosecutor read the four murder charges against her. Each time the prosecutor read the names of the toddlers -- Shomari Dickerson, Elias Castillo, Elizabeth Kajoh and Kendyll Stradford -- each family member became increasingly emotional and could be heard crying.

The mother of three-year-old Shomari Dickerson, who also had another child badly burned in the blaze, could be heard challenging Tata to look at her as Tata walked out of the courtroom. The mom says her message is clear.

"SEEK stands for Shomari, Elias, Elizabeth and Kendyll. SEEK justice," said Tiffany Dickerson.

"So I just have her turn towards me and just tears come down. But she's quiet and she's respectful and doesn't say anything," said Tata's attorney, Dick DeGuerin. "She's a relatively young lady, I believe she's 23, and this is all kind of astounding to her."

Tata pleaded not guilty to the four murder charges against her. She has previously pleaded not guilty to five other charges in the case.

Tiffany Dickerson and the other parents and grandparents present today said they have absolutely no sympathy for Tata.

The judge denied the defense's motion to consolidate all nine of the charges. Right now, it appears there could be a trial for each of those charges.

That could play out to nine months to a year in trial. That could be tough. I don't know how anybody can afford that sort of prosecution," DeGuerin said.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office has not responded to our request for comment about possibly putting Tata on trial nine times.

Testimony for the first trial begins January 23, 2012.

The range of punishment for the new indictments is from five years to life in prison if convicted.


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