Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Houston day care owner pleads not guilty in fire that killed 4 kids - Beaumont Enterprise

An undated photo provided Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by the Harris County, Texas, SheriffĂ­s Office shows Jessica Tata. Tata, the owner of a Houston home day care where a fire last month killed four children, was returned to Houston, Texas from Nigeria to face charges early Tuesday after spending Monday in the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Authorities believe she fled to the West African nation two days after the Feb. 24 fire, which also injured three children. Investigators believe Tata went shopping and left all seven children alone before a stove-top burner that was left on ignited the blaze. She has been charged with manslaughter, injury to a child and child abandonment.

Jessica Tata, who fled to Nigeria days after a fatal fire at her west Houston home day care early this year, pleaded not guilty to four charges of felony murder in court today.

Tata, 23, is accused of leaving a pan of burning oil on a stovetop that led to a fire that killed four children.

State District Judge Marc Brown denied a motion by Mike DeGeurin, Tata's attorney, to combine the four cases for one trial. Brown set the first trial for January.

Family members of the dead children cried and rocked back and forth as prosecutor Steve Baldassano read the detailed charges against Tata, which took about 15 minutes.

Tata previously had been arraigned, and pleaded not guilty, on several charges, including child endangerment and abandoning a child in connection with the deaths.

She was indicted June 1 by a Harris County grand jury on four counts of felony murder, which alleges she caused the deaths while committing a felony - child endangerment.

Tata remains in the Harris County jail in lieu of a $2 million bail, which prosecutors asked for after Tata went to Nigeria days after the Feb. 24 fire, but before being charged. She surrendered and was returned by U.S. Marshals in March.


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