HOUSTON—The punishment phase of Jessica Tata’s trial has entered its second day, after it took a jury only six hours to find her guilty of murder.
Tata may have been standing when Judge Marc Brown read the jury’s verdict, but relatives of 15-month-old Elias Castillo were on the edge of their seats. Castillo was the youngest of four children to die in a 2011 day care fire, when Tata left them unsupervised with a pan of oil heating on the stove, as she went shopping at Target.
“From the bottom of our hearts, we’re thankful for today’s verdict,” said Nancy Villanueva, Castillo’s aunt. “And we’re happy. That’s all I have to say.”
It was almost as if Tata was the opposite of emotional, turning away from jurors as they were polled about the verdict.
“She’s never lost sight of the real victims,” said defense attorney Mike DeGeurin. “The real people to have concern for are the families that lost the children. She hasn’t forgotten that.
The families will never forget.
The first witness to take the stand in the punishment phase of the trial was a former administrator from the Katy Independent School District, who told jurors Tata was suspended and ultimately expelled from the ninth grade for her vulgar behavior and for setting two fires in a school bathroom. When asked for his impressions of her he stated he felt she was a bad and evil person.
The state is expected to call 20 witnesses during the punishment phase of the trial. So far, they’ve only called four.
Prosecutors say Tata has a troubled past and the deadly blaze last year wasn’t her first time being involved in a fire. As a teen, she was convicted of at least one arson count after prosecutors say she started two bathroom fires on the same day at her suburban Houston high school.
No longer being sequestered, jurors were allowed to return home after spending the night in a downtown Houston hotel.