More victims' family members testify in Jessica Tata day care murder trial

October 26, 2012 4:51:47 AM PDT
There were more tears Thursday in the trial of Jessica Tata, the day care owner who's charged with murder after prosecutors say her day care caught on fire, killing four children while she went shopping.

Jurors were shown a video of those children from the morning of fire. The courtroom was eerily silent as the defense played the video. Talking, walking, sitting and holding little sippy cups, jurors saw six of the seven young fire victims inside the day care. According to the defense, the video was captured by Tata the same day as the fire.

In the background cold be heard the voice of Tata talking to the children.

It was too much for April Jackson as she sat on the stand wiping away tears. Her son Deshuan, who was seen in the video jumping on a child-proof gate, was seriously burned in the fire and eventually taken to Shriners Hospital. Tata's attorney asked Jackson and Fred Lwanga, whose son, Rylan, had minor injuries, if they knew the former day care owner had rushed to pull their kids from the burning house.

"My heart goes out to the mothers. It was a very difficult day today and it will continue to be a difficult day today," said defense attorney Mike DeGuerin.

Brian Smith, a witness for the prosecution, testified that hours before the fire Tata was not rushing when she was captured on surveillance video at 7:53am alone walking into a S. Kirkwood Walmart and shopping.

"When she was at the register, she was actually asking about some other shopping bags that we have and she was doing price checks so she was in no hurry at all," Smith said.

Surveillance shows Tata leaving the store a few minutes later. Parents testified that their children had already been dropped off and were supposed to be in Tata's care.

The state is planning to present more evidence showing Tata also stopped by a Target store before returning home and finding her day care on fire.

Tata is charged with one count of felony murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child. She faces up to life in prison if convicted.

We'll bring you more details from this trial on Eyewitness News and here on abc13.com.

More testimony earlier Thursday

There was more emotional testimony this morning in the murder trial of day care owner Jessica Tata, who's accused in the deaths of four children.

A mother whose child survived the fire took the stand this morning, opening up about why she felt she could trust Tata and how she feels now.

April Jackson's son, Deshaun, was seriously burned in the day care fire back in February 2011 and treated at Shriners Hospital.

Jackson recounted how she first met Tata, seeing her in a van with the name and phone number of her day care on the side at a McDonald's, striking up a conversation. She talked about how she trusted Tata, and that Tata told her she ran her facility with Christian values.

Jackson also testified that on the day of the fire she received a call from Tata's phone, but it was a neighbor on the other end of the line telling her to go to the hospital because there had been a fire at the day care.

She said that when she finally arrived at Memorial Hermann Hospital, she knew how serious the situation when she saw the chaplain. It was an emotional moment in court, the kind of moment defense attorney Mike DeGuerin said he'd hoped all the parents would not have to endure.

"I had asked that all the cases be tried together for one trial, and I was not successful in that request. So rather than having all the mothers testify in each trial; I thought that was too much," said DeGuerin.

There was also a video shown in court which presumably shows Tata with the children on the morning of the fire, laughing and getting ready to take them out on a trip. DeGuerin referred to the video in his opening statement, saying the video showed Tata in a childcare setting, doing what she loved.


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