Jurors Give 80-Year Sentence for Toddler's Death in Daycare Fire
HOUSTON (CN) - A daycare operator who left her charges alone in the house with a still-burning stove, causing a fire that killed four children, was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Jessica Tata left the children, all of whom were under the age of 4, unattended to shop at a nearby Target in February 2011. While she was gone, a pan with oil on a hot burner caught fire.
Elias Castillo, 16 months, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, Elizabeth Kajoh, 19 months, and 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson died in the blaze. Another three were injured.
Tata's defense attorney Mike DeGeurin had argued that a defective refrigerator switch started the fire.
Unconvinced, the jury convicted Tata last week in the felony murder of Elias Castillo. Tata still faces charges and civil claims related to the other children.
During the trial's closing arguments, prosecutor Steven Baldassano showed jurors store video of Tata shopping at Target while fire engulfed her daycare.
The video showed Tata walking at a leisurely pace, talking on her cellphone as she entered the store.
"Like she's got nothing else to do today," Baldassano said. "Like she's on vacation. ... Think about what's going on back at the daycare. If someone's there, you could put a lid on the pot."
Baldassano added: "Maybe it's me, but I'm in a bigger hurry if I'm just in a Target, period."
Jurors had the option of sentencing Tata from five years to life in prison for Castillo's death.
Tata will be eligible for parole in 30 years. She was also fined $10,000.
Baldassano said the district attorney's office will move ahead with the cases of the other three children who died in the fire depending on any appeals from Tata's lawyers, the Houston Chronicle reported.
DeGeurin said Tata will appeal the sentence.