Texas Day Care Fire Was Felony Murder: Jury
Jessica Tata was charged with felony murder after four children died in a fire at her home day care. On Tuesday, a Texas jury found her guilty.
The fire happened in February 2011 while Tata was out shopping. She left seven children in her home, unsupervised, and also left a pan of oil heating on the stove, the Associated Press reports. The oil ignited and sparked a fire that killed four of the children and injured the others.
Tata's attorney argued that she didn't intend to harm the children. But that wasn't really a defense in this case since her intent wasn't important.
Tata was charged with felony murder for the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. In Texas, as in other states with this rule, felony murder focuses more on the felony than the murder.
Laws about felony murder are designed to punish people who commit an inherently dangerous felony and as a result of that felony, someone dies. Felony murder punishes people regardless of their intent to kill; the only relevant issue is the intent to commit the underlying felony.
In Jessica Tata's case, not only is child abandonment a felony in Texas, but it is also considered inherently dangerous because it places a child in danger.
The sentencing phase of Tata's trial began on Tuesday, and she could spend the rest of her life in prison, according to Houston's KHOU-TV.
Tata has also been charged with three other counts of felony murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child. But with Tuesday's conviction, it's not clear if prosecutors will take those cases to trial, KHOU reports.