Punishment phase of day care fire trial to resume

Punishment phase of day care fire trial to resume

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas woman convicted of murder in the death of a child in a fire at her home day care has a troubled past with a history of arson, according to testimony for the prosecution.

As a teenager, Jessica Tata was convicted of at least one arson count because of her involvement in two fires — on the same day — in a bathroom at her suburban Houston high school.

Testimony in the punishment phase of the 24-year-old Tata’s trial was to resume today. A jury found her guilty Tuesday of one count of felony murder. She faces up to life in prison.

The February 2011 fire at the day care Tata ran at her Houston home killed 16-month-old Elias Castillo and three other children. Three others were seriously injured. Prosecutors said the fire started after Tata left a pan of oil on a stove while she went shopping at a nearby Target store. The children, who had been left unsupervised, could be heard crying inside the burning home out of the reach of neighbors.

Tata’s attorneys argued that she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years, and that she tried to save them. But prosecutors did not need to show she intended to harm the children, only that the deaths occurred because she put them in danger by leaving them alone. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony and that action led to the death.

Tata had no visible reaction as the guilty verdict was read Tuesday.

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