Pre-trial motion hearing for day care owner Jessica Tata accused of murder

Jessica Tata is charged with several criminal counts in connection with last year's deadly fire at her home-operated day care.
October 15, 2012 3:58:27 PM PDT
A year after a horrific fire at an in-home day care, a woman accused of leaving very young and helpless kids alone is about to go on trial for murder. But first, critical decisions will be made about what evidence can be used against her.

Four small children were killed in February of last year when a fire broke out at a home day care in west Houston. Jessica Tata, the woman who was supposed to be watching them now faces murder charges.

On Monday she was in court as attorneys argued about what evidence should and should not be allowed in her upcoming trial.

Jessica Tata sat in the courtroom staring straight ahead. The now 24-year-old is charged with four felony murders, the first of which goes to trial next week.

"She's diabetic and we're dealing with that. My son went to get her an order for insulin. But other than that, she's doing as best she can in the situation she's in," said defense attorney Mike DeGuerin.

Prosecutors allege that on February 24, 2011 Tata went shopping when she was supposed to be watching several children at her home day care. Police say she left a pot of oil burning on an electric stove and while she was gone, the home burst into flames, killing four young children and injuring three.

Police say Tata then fled to Nigeria to avoid charges. She was arrested and retuned to the U.S. about a month later.

"People have an emotional reaction without knowing all the facts. That's the hardest thing," DeGuerin said.

In Monday's pretrial hearing, attorneys argued over allowing into trial certain evidence and testimony that was collected before Tata was charged. One big issue is Tata's computer and diary. Her landlord gave them to investigators without a search warrant after the fire. Investigators testified they didn't even consider Tata as a suspect when they first questioned her.

"Both sides have a different spin on it. The state says we didn't know she was a suspect. We just needed to know what was going on. The defense saying you knew very well that she was a suspect and would be the target of your investigation," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

The hearing will resume on Wednesday morning.

A jury panel will fill out questionnaires later this week. Testimony in Tata's trial is set to begin October 24. The trial is expected to last one month.


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