HOUSTON –As grand jurors this week consider the case of a deadly day care center fire, legal analysts say the murder charges may not stick if the grand jury doesn’t think there was intent.
"They're trying to get the crime of child abandonment, of neglect of a child, they're trying to stack that together and say it led to a murder,” KHOU 11 News Legal Analyst Gerald Treece said about the Jessica Tata case. “To me, the problem of that is you have to show the intent to do this. I can be grossly negligent, and be the worst caregiver in the world, and still not have the direct intent to take a child's life."
A grand jury will have to decide if the deaths of four young children rise to the level of felony murder. As grand jurors consider the case, we don't know exactly what evidence prosecutors are presenting.
Unlike other hearings, Tata's legal team won't know either. We do know prosecutors are asking the grand jury to accept charges of felony murder.
"Charging someone with murder when a child dies has become the trend in Harris County .. .in the last 5 to 10 years,” said Stanley Schneider, a defense attorney. "It sounds worse than injury to a child.”
The DA's office would not talk about the case.
"The grand jury process is secret. The grand jury can't speak about it, the prosecutors can't speak about it,” said Schneider.
If the grand jury rejects the murder charges, there are still a number of possibilities. It could indict Tata on lesser charges. Or the DA could just present the murder case to another grand jury.