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Charges dropped for Texan convicted in child death
Friday - 1/25/2013, 5:39pm EST
(AP) - Prosecutors on Friday dismissed the last of the charges against a Houston day care provider who is already serving an 80-year prison sentence for the death of one of the children killed in a fire while she was out shopping.
A jury in November convicted Jessica Tata of murder in the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She was indicted on nine charges, including four counts of murder, in the February 2011 fire in which four toddlers died and three others were injured. Hot oil Tata left on the stove caught fire while the children were alone when she was at a nearby Target store, authorities have said.
Any additional punishment the 24-year-old woman would face from further convictions would be served concurrently and not alter her sentence, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Steve Baldassano said. Tata is eligible for parole after 30 years, which also wouldn't change with any further convictions, he said.
A phone message left for defense attorney Mike DeGeurin at his Houston office was not immediately returned.
Baldassano said the jury considered testimony that pertained to all of the victims when it imposed its sentence.
"To give her that amount of time, they probably considered everything they heard, which included comments from all the families," he said.
Families of the children were notified of the decision to drop the remaining charges. She had also faced three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child.
"It didn't appear to me that they had any objections to it," Baldassano said.
Tata has appealed her conviction and should she win, prosecutors would re-try her for murder, he said. There's no statute of limitations on murder in Texas.
State District Judge Marc Brown approved the dismissal of the remaining charges. As a result, Tata will be transferred from the Harris County jail to state prison.
Tata operated the day care out of her home. During her trial, prosecutors painted a portrait of a young woman who had long wanted to run her own day care but who was soon in over her head, caring for too many kids and taking chances by leaving them alone to run errands.
The three other children who died in the fire were 3-year-old Shomari Leon Dickerson, 20-month-old Kendyll Stradford and 19-month-old Elizabeth Kajoh.
Tata fled to Nigeria after the fire but was captured after about a month, returned to the U.S. in March 2011 and has remained jailed since. She was born in the U.S. but has Nigerian citizenship.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)