Raw: Jessica Tata appears in court

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by khou.com staff

khou.com

Posted on May 27, 2011 at 7:01 PM

Updated Friday, May 27 at 7:01 PM

HOUSTON -- Jessica Tata will remain behind bars in connection with a day care fire that killed four children and injured three others.

A judge Friday rejected her attorney's request to reduce her bond to $50,000.

After hearing testimony all day, it took the judge about a second to issue his decision with a single word: "Denied."

Defense Attorney Mike DeGeurin had argued the $1 million bond is illegally excessive and should be reduced to $50,000. 

DeGeurin tried to convince the judge that Tata risked her life to try and save the children from the fire. To bolster his claim, DeGeurin played a recording of the 911 call the day care provider made after the fire in which a frantic Tata can be heard screaming to an operator that she can’t see any of the children from the smoke in the house.

"My kids are dying. Please help me," Tata pleaded. "Oh my God. I don’t know what to do."

In the background of the call, children in the day care could be heard crying, which prompted several family members of the victims who were in the courtroom to leave in tears.

"You can hear the babies, and you don't know which one it is, but you can hear the babies," said Keisha Brown who lost her son Elias in the fire. "As it set in, it was just like, 'Are you serious?'"

Tata, who was dressed in a black business suit and handcuffed, also appeared to cry.

Authorities believe the 23-year-old left all seven children in her care alone while she went shopping. The fire was ignited by a stove-top burner that was left on.

Prosecutor Steve Baldassano portrayed Tata as a deceptive person who lied to investigators about being in shock after the fire and kept authorities at bay until she was able to flee the country to Nigeria just before charges were filed against her.

She fled to Nigeria two days after the fire and became an international fugitive for nearly a month. Her bonds were set after her capture. Tata, who was born in the U.S. but has Nigerian citizenship, was returned to the U.S. on March 21.

Firefighter Dorian Green testified that after the fire he tried to interview Tata after she was hospitalized for shock. Green, who is also an emergency medical technician, said he didn’t believe she was in shock and was being "deceptive."

An HPD officer testified that Tata's father first denied knowing where she was, then admitted she was in Nigeria. 

Interpol tracked Tata to a friend's house in the country. She was kept in a hotel until her extradition. Investigators said Tata had a ticket back to the U.S. for March 18.

In addition to four murder charges, Tata is also charged with two charges of reckless injury to a child and three charges of abandoning a child.

The mother of one of the four children who died in the fire as well as the mother of one of the injured children have sued Tata, accusing her of negligence.

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