HOUSTON—It was without question one of the darker moments in Houston history: Four children dead; Three severely burned. All of them had been left alone with a pan of oil heating on the stove, while day care owner Jessica Tata shopped at Target.
Elias Castillo, Elizabeth Kojah, Kendyll Stradford and Shomari Dickerson were trapped inside the burning day care in February 2011.
Tata was convicted for the murder of 15-month-old Elias Castillo, the youngest victim, but she has not been tried for the other deaths and injuries.
"The eight remaining cases against Jessica Tata were dismissed because there’s really no legal reason to keep the cases open," said prosecutor Steve Baldassano. "She’s got 80 years on the case we tried."
The charges dismissed include three charges of murder, three charges of child abandonment and two charges reckless injury to a child.
Unable to stack additional sentences on what Tata already has, Baldassano said there’s no reason to drag the victims’ families through additional trials.
It was a sentiment shared by Castillo’s great grandmother the day the sentence was handed down last November.
"I think it’s a victory for all of the children," said Patty Sparks. "Why put those mothers and fathers through all this again?"
Meanwhile, defense attorney Mike DeGeurin has appealed Tata’s conviction.
"If the appeal is unsuccessful, she’ll go to prison for 80 years, not being eligible for parole until 30 years have passed," said Baldassano.
If the appeal is successful, Baldassano said he would retry the first case or refile some of the cases that have been dismissed.
Tata fled the country to her family’s native Nigeria a few days after the fire. She was later arrested and brought back to the U.S.