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Jessica Tata Trial: Store manager testifies that day care worker told him she left day care kids alone with stove on

Jessica Tata The Harris County Sheriff's office/AP Photo

Jessica Tata
The Harris County Sheriff's office/AP Photo

(CBS) -- A Target store manager told jurors Friday that the day care worker charged with felony murder after four children in her care were killed in a fire, told him she left the gas on while she went shopping, reports CBS affiliate KHOU.

Jessica Tata left the children alone on February 24, 2011 while she visited two stores that day, first Walmart and then Target, according to prosecutors.

The day care caught fire while she was gone, killing four of the children.

At the time smoke and fire was sweeping through the house, Tata was allegedly in Target disputing the price of a pair of pants, prosecutors said.

A former manager testified that he told Tata she could fill out a survey to make a formal complaint, but she told him she did not have enough time.

The manager also said Tata told him she left grease on the stove, but it was on low, and the kids were at the house. He testified that she asked him if he thought that was alright, and that he told her it was "by no means" alright.

Prosecutors said that after leaving Target, Tata went to a Starbucks.

When she pulled up to the home, smoke was billowing from the windows and the children were trapped inside. Tata called 911 and managed to get two kids from the house.

But on Monday, firefighters testified that Tata made the scene even more confusing when she told emergency personnel that nine children were trapped in the building, when in fact there were only seven, reports KHOU.

All of the children had been pulled from the home in the first 10 minutes, and yet, firefighters continued searching for two more victims, needlessly endangering their lives, according to the prosecution.

"It's very stressful. You're going into an environment that's not conducive to life," Cpt. David Swanson told jurors.

Swanson and two other firefighters had to crawl on their hands and knees throughout the burning house. The heat at ceiling level was 475 degrees, and the black smoke was so thick, he said they had to search for the children by feeling their way around with their hands.

Elias Castillo, Elizabeth Kojah, Kendyll Stradford and Shomari Dickerson died in the blaze.

Prosecutors said in opening statements that Tata initially lied on the scene saying the fire started while she was in the bathroom, refusing to admit that she left the kids by themselves, the station reports. They also said she later pretended to not know what happened, and ate and watched television while being protected by her family members at the hospital.

While the grieving parents prepared to bury their children, Tata fled to Nigeria, but was captured a month later. She faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Complete coverage of Jessica Tata on Crimesider


  • Crimesider Staff

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