Jessica Tata charged with 4 counts of murderHOUSTON
- A Target store manager testified Friday that Jessica Tata was shopping shortly before her home day care caught fire and she knew about grease on the stove.
Tata, 24, is on trial for felony murder after four children died in a 2011 fire at her day care.
Three videos were shown in court -- surveillance videos from two stores where Tata shopped the day of the fire and a video of the children Tata shot hours before they died in the 2011 blaze.
The surveillance video from Target was shown to jurors late Thursday. She was in the store for 16 minutes, four minutes before the fire started.
Target store manager Ray Menzies testified that while Tata was in the store at 2700 Eldridge, he asked her to take a shopper's survey. She told him she left grease on the stove on low with kids in the house and her sister there asleep, and asked if that would be OK.
Menzies testified that he told her the survey was not that important. "I told her by no means it was OK," he said.
He testified that Tata did not have any children with her.
Menzies said she left within 10 seconds, but did not appear to be frantic or hurried. Store cameras showed that she didn't go directly to her car, but stopped and lingered on the way out at a Starbuck's counter in the store. When she arrived home, the daycare was on fire.
The 911 call was also played for jurors on Friday. Tata wept as the audio filled the courtroom.
"Children are dying. I can't even get there and get them," Tata said on the 911 call.
The judge called a recess.
On Thursday, Jurors got a brief glimpse into Tata's day care hours before the fatal fire. Tata shot the video on her cellphone. It showed her gathering the children for an activity.
The defense showed the video to the jury to demonstrate that Tata, 24, was a conscientious caretaker who loved the children in her care.
The video came as prosecutors questioned April Jackson, the mother of a child who was badly burned.
Jackson talked about the day that changed her son's life forever. DaJohn Ashley was 22 months old when he was burned. His mother testified about how she met Jessica Tata and that her son was only at the day care for a month. He now has permanent scars from that tragic day. She testified that she never heard from Tata after the fire.
All of the children were dropped off at Tata's home day care by 7:30 a.m. Less than half an hour, surveillance video from a nearby Walmart showed Tata walking through the store and then checking out. The store's security cameras photographed her van pulling into the store lot and parking in a fire lane.
Other cameras caught Tata shopping in the grocery department, where she bought two packages of hot dogs, a bag of grapes and a pepper.
Walmart employee Brian Smith told jurors that Tata took her time.
"She was in the building five or 10 minutes, and she was in no hurry to leave the building at all," he testified.
"How could you tell that?" a reporter asked.
"Her demeanor, especially at the register. She was actually asking about some other type of shopping bags that we have and she ran a price check. So, she wasn't in a hurry at all," Smith said.
None of the children were with Tata while she shopped. Investigators said they can't tell if any of the children may have been in her van.
Tata was charged with four counts of murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child.
Prosecutors say Tata put the children in harm's way by leaving them alone and going shopping. While she was at a nearby Target, a fire broke out in the kitchen when oil in a frying pan on a stovetop burner ignited. Three children were also seriously injured in the blaze.
Tata's attorneys say she didn't intend to hurt the children. Defense attorneys say murder charges are excessive and that when the fire broke out, she tried to save the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years old.
Tata initially told authorities she was in the home's bathroom when the fire happened. DeGeurin, Tata's attorney, attributed her lie to immaturity.
Legal experts say that if prosecutors can prove the deaths occurred because she abandoned the children to go shopping, they don't need to prove intent to harm to secure a murder conviction. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony and that action led to the death.
After the fire, Tata fled to Nigeria but was captured after about a month, returned to the U.S. in March 2011 and has remained jailed. She was born in the U.S. but has Nigerian citizenship.
Shomari Dickerson, 3, Elizabeth Kojah, 20 months, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, and Elias Castillo, 16 months, died in the fire at Jackie's Child Care on Crest Park at Waypark Drive shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2011. Three other children were injured. Tata is standing trial for felony murder first for the youngest of the victims -- Elias Castillo.
Tata's trial is expected to last about a month. Testimony was to resume Thursday.http://www.click2hou...4t/-/index.html