Jessica Tata Trial: Defense seeking leniency in deadly Houston day care fire

In this Oct. 24, 2012 file photo, Jessica Tata, accused in the deaths of four children at her west Houston daycare, stands at the conclusion of opening statements at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, in Houston. Tata, 24, is charged with four counts of felony murder but is currently being tried in the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Mayra Beltran, File,AP Photo/Houston Chronicle
Jessica Tata stands at the conclusion of opening statements at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse in Houston on Oct. 24, 2012; she was convicted of murder for a fire at the home day care she operated.
Mayra Beltran, File, AP Photo/Houston Chronicle

(CBS/AP) HOUSTON - Defense attorneys are arguing for leniency for Jessica Tata, the Houston woman convicted of murder in a fire at her home day care that killed four children.

Tata's attorneys open their case Friday in the punishment phase of her trial. She could be sentenced to up to life in prison for the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo, for which she was specifically tried.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday. They said the February 2011 fire started after Tata left children alone with a pan of oil on a hot stove while she went shopping. Three other children were injured in the blaze.

Tata's attorneys say she never intended to hurt the children who were killed, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3-years-old, and that she tried to save them.

On Thursday, two seven-year-old girls Tata had cared for told jurors that on separate occasions the woman left several babies unattended.

Kiyana Richardson, whose brother died in the fire and whose sister was seriously injured, testified that on one occasion Tata left her alone in the house with several babies and the 7-year-old helped out, giving them their pacifiers or bottles "so they don't cry." Kiyanna, who was not in the day care facility on the day of the deadly blaze, did not say when this incident happened.

Brighten Long, who was enrolled with her brother at Tata's day care, told jurors Tata once took her and several other children to eat at a McDonald's but left some babies alone in her home. Prosecutors say this happened in July or August 2010.

Complete coverage of Jessica Tata on Crimesider