HOUSTON -- Jurors heard more disturbing testimony Friday on day three of the felony murder trial of Jessica Tata, the day care worker who left seven kids alone while she went on a shopping trip. The day care caught fire while she was gone, killing four of the children.
Tata left the children alone on February 24, 2011 while she visited two stores that day, first Walmart and then Target, according to prosecutors.
At the time smoke and fire was sweeping through the house, Tata was allegedly in Target disputing the price of a pair of pants, prosecutors said.
A former manager testified that he told Tata she could fill out a survey to make a formal complaint, but she told him she did not have enough time.
The manager also said Tata specifically told him she left grease on the stove, but it was on low, and the kids were at the house.
She then asked him if it was OK.
The manager testified he told her “by no means” was that OK.
Tata still took her time, however, and even went to a Starbucks next door to the Target before she decided to go home, prosecutors said.
When she pulled up to the home, smoke was billowing from the windows and the children were trapped inside. Tata called 911 and managed to get two kids from the house, but the rest left were defenseless until firefighters arrived.
Elias Castillo, Elizabeth Kojah, Kendyll Stradford and Shomari Dickerson died in the blaze.
On Thursday, jurors watched cell phone video Tata recorded of the children just hours before they died. It was chilling to hear her calling the names of those who wouldn’t survive.
While defense attorney Mike DeGuerin said his client was a loving caregiver, prosecutors tried to paint a much different picture of the entrusted caregiver. They are aiming to prove that Tata was irresponsible and uncaring, and those qualities led to the deaths of the children.
Family members of the children who died side by side agreed. They said they first believed Tata was trustworthy, but her actions before and after the fire showed what she was really like.
Prosecutors said in opening statements that Tata initially lied on the scene saying the fire started while she was in the bathroom, refusing to admit that she left the kids by themselves. They also said she later pretended to not know what happened, and ate and watched television while being protected by her family members at the hospital.
While the grieving parents prepared to bury their children, Tata fled to Nigeria, but was captured a month later.
This trial, prosecutors say, is about betrayal and trust.
Tata faces up to life in prison if convicted.