Jury seated in Jessica Tata day care murder trial
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A jury has been seated in the trial of a day care owner accused in a fire that killed four children.
Attorneys on both sides spent Tuesday interviewing potential jurors before settling on the 12 men and women who will decide the fate of day care owner Jessica Tata. Investigators say back in February 2011, Tata left seven children home alone to go shopping, and a pot of oil left on the stove sparked the deadly fire. Four kids died and three were injured in the fire.
Tata is charged with four counts of murder in connection with the blaze. This trial is for the murder of 16-month-old Elias Castillo, the youngest child killed.
Opening arguments start Wednesday morning.
The judge addressed prospective jurors Tuesday telling them to be honest about their feelings and to tell him if they feel they can follow the law. There were no cameras on the floor in an effort to make sure the jury pool is not tainted by media coverage.
One hundred twenty-two prospective jurors were questioned by prosecutors and attorneys for Tata. She is charged with four counts of murder for the deaths of four children who died in a fire after she left all seven children at her in-home day care unattended while she went shopping.
It happened on February 24, 2011. Firefighters say she left a pot of boiling oil on the stove, causing a fire that killed the four children who were all under the age of four, and injuring three others. Her attorneys say a murder charge is overzealous because they say their client did not intentionally harm the children.
The children killed include: 16-month-old Elias Castillo, 20-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh, 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford, and 3-year-old Shomari Dickerson. This trial is for just one of the victims' murder.
When Tata, 24, returned to the home and saw the fatal fire she was visibly distraught. That's why parents of the victims were shocked when Tata fled the country and went to Nigeria. She was extradited a month later.
The case was highly publicized, receiving national media coverage, so seating a jury that can be objective could be a challenge for prosecutors and the defense team.
This is a very large jury pool. In fact, there were 58 jurors that were struck and they called in another 68 to get to 122. That is because it is such a high-profile case.
Tata faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story.
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