Local

Day care operator faces four murder charges

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our legal expert is weighing in on the four murder charges filed Wednesday against home day care operator Jessica Tata.

Tata was already facing more than a dozen charges in the February 24 fire that killed four children and injured three others. This gives the Harris County District Attorney's Office a clear path to get Tata in prison for life.

It's an attention-grabbing case that started with the fatal day care fire, the owner leaving the country and being arrested and extradited back to the U.S., and has now entered its newest chapter -- charges upgraded to felony murder.

"An opportunity she had of keeping the charges at reckless endangerment or manslaughter evaporated when she fled," KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said.

Late Wednesday, the district attorney's office re-filed on the 22-year-old, and the four reckless injury and manslaughter charges were upgraded to four felony murders.

The DA's Office says it will give the jury more options when deliberating the case. Androphy says it will give jurors a broader spectrum from which to punish.

"If you start with reckless endangerment and manslaughter, the jury can't add to the charges and find felony murder. They can only find you guilty of what you're charged with and a lesser amount. They can't find you guilty of what you're charged with and something greater," Androphy said.

Androphy says the reckless endangerment carries a maximum of 20 years on each count, but under the current law, it is very difficult to stack each sentence on top of each other.

Felony murder alone carries a range of five to 99 years in prison.

The DA's Office also stated that the stove that was left on while Tata was shopping at Target is considered a deadly weapon. Androphy says this move is to almost guarantee she will serve time in prison.

"So if a jury decides for example, 'Hey, we'll give her five years probation, six years probation,' the deadly weapon finding by a jury will prevent that, so what the state is trying to do is close all the doors to Ms. Tata getting probation in this case," Androphy said.

Tata is currently at the Harris County Jail on bonds totaling more than $1 million. Bond on each murder charge was set at $200,000, but she still faces several lesser charges for the other children that were injured. The bonds on those charges add up to $100,000.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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