Law Expert: Indictment Means Long Odds for Tata

Now that a Houston grand jury has indicted local daycare operator Jessica Tata on felony murder charges, a local law expert say her attorney has a tough battle ahead. Laurie Johnson reports.

Jessica Tata
Jessica Tata
The Harris County Sheriff’s office

Tata had already been charged with murder earlier this year in the fire deaths of four of the children she cared for at her west Houston daycare. Now a grand jury has agreed with prosecutors and indicted her. The wrinkle here is the felony aspect of the murder indictment. South Texas College of Law professor Geoffrey Corn says it’s a tactic used by prosecutors who don’t want to have to prove Tata meant for the children to die.

“Jurors have this instinct that murder requires an intent to cause death, and so a prosecutor uses felony murder because bypasses all of that headache, all of that clutter and shoots the arrow straight at the outcome. The argument for felony murder is five minutes. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, go back and deliberate. If you’re convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Tata committed the felony of child endangerment and a death resulted, you must convict for murder. That’s it.”

Corn says don’t underestimate the value of the felony murder indictment on plea negotiations going forward. 

“Because now her defense lawyer is going to have to tell her that the odds of her beating this murder rap are nil if the evidence is there that she committed the underlying felony. And therefore, the defense lawyer is going to have a lot of leverage on his client to work with her to offer a plea deal to maybe a lesser included offense of manslaughter.”

Tata is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges on July 8th. She’s currently being held in the Harris County jail on more than a million dollars bail.