HOUSTON— Two little girls who attended Jessica Tata’s west Houston home day care testified Thursday that it was very common for Tata to leave the babies alone while she ran errands. Tata was found guilty of felony murder Tuesday after a fire killed four of seven children she left alone in February 2011.
Elias Castillo, Elizabeth Kojah, Kendyll Stradford and Shomari Dickerson all died side by side.
One by one, witnesses took the stand during the punishment phase of the trial to talk about Tata’s troubled past and her alarming character.
Tata’s former classmates described her as a bully and a Katy ISD school administrator who testified Wednesday about her setting two fires at the school said she was “bad and evil.”
But the most damaging evidence came Thursday when the girls took the stand.
The first little girl, a 10-year-old, said Tata often left the babies in their cribs while she took the older children with her to McDonalds at Walmart.
The second child, Shomari’s sister, also remembered Tata leaving the babies alone, adding that she would give them bottles and pacifiers to keep them quiet. She was at school when her baby brother was killed.
Tata visited a Walmart and a Target the day she left the babies alone in the house while a pot of oil was burning on the stove. A Target manager testified during trial that Tata told him she left something burning on the stove when he asked her to fill out a survey.
She asked him if he thought that was OK and he told her “No.”
Still, she took her time leaving and surveillance cameras showed her stopping by Starbucks to buy something even after her talk with the manager.
By the time she returned home, smoke and flames were coming from the day care and the defenseless children were trapped inside.
A former fraud investigator with the Health and Human Services Department testified that Tata fraudulently obtained nearly $4,000 worth of food stamps between 2007 and 2011, adding to the damaging testimony against Tata.
The state was expected to call 20 witnesses in all during the punishment phase.