Jessica Tata Found Guilty In Deadly Day Care Fire

A Houston jury is now hearing punishment evidence in the trial of a woman found guilty of felony murder, after a fire at her home day care last year that left four toddlers dead.

Relatives of the young victims cried softly as the verdict was announced, but Jessica Tata showed no emotion.  The 24-year-old Tata could now face anywhere from five years to life in prison. 

Mike Degeurin is Tata’s attorney.

Jackie's Childcare fire
Firefighters opened the roof to let smoke escape (February 24, 2012).

“The jury has spoken. We accept their verdict, and we move on with the second phase of the trial.” 

Prosecutors say the fire started after Tata left a pan of hot grease on the stove while she went shopping at a nearby Target.  The children were left by themselves, and  Tata arrived home to find thick black smoke. Four children died, three were hurt.  All the children were under the age of three.

The jury rejected the defense’s argument that the fire may have been caused by a malfunctioning appliance.  Following the verdict, DeGeurin was asked about Tata’s mental state.

“She’s never lost sight of the real victims and the real people to have concern for, or the families who lost their children. She hasn’t forgotten that. You know, it’s not like, it’s not all about her.  It’s about a lot more than her.”

Tata was tried for only one of the deaths.  That was the case of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. Nancy Villanueva is the toddler’s aunt.

“All I want to say is thank you for everybody that’s been keeping up with everything, and from the bottom of our hearts we’re thankful for today’s verdict, and we’re happy, and that’s all I have to say, Mucho gracias a todos.” 

The jury had the option of convicting Tata of several lesser counts, including child abandonment, child endangerment, and injury to a child. The punishment phase of the trial could take a couple of weeks.


Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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