A Nigerian woman named Jessica Tata has been sentenced to 80 years in prison after her carelessness led to the death of four children in her daycare.
Tata had left some oil on fire to quickly go shopping, only to come back and meet her day care in flames.
On Tuesday, jurors sentenced the 24-year-old woman to 80 years in prison for the death of one of the children, 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She still faces charges related to the rest of the children.
“Nobody wins in this situation,” Elias’ great-grandmother, Patty Sparks, said after the sentence was announced. “My heart goes out to the Tata family and those precious mothers and fathers who lost their babies.”
Tata, who was only a few years removed from her teens when she started her day care, worked alone most of the time. Investigators said the February 2011 blaze happened when a pan of oil she had left cooking on the stove ignited while she was out shopping.
The same jury that decided her sentence had convicted Tata last week of one count of felony murder. The jury could have sentenced her to anywhere from five years to life in prison. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, while defense attorneys asked only that jurors not give her an excessive sentence.
She will have to serve 30 years of her sentence before she is eligible for parole. Tata also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Tata’s attorneys contended she was a good person who loved children but made a terrible mistake.
Prosecutor Steve Baldassano said that while he has sympathy for Tata’s family, she had nobody to blame but herself.
“She was being paid to watch these children. She knew better,” Baldassano said. “It’s not the stove. It’s not the refrigerator. It’s not any parents’ fault. It’s nobody’s fault but her own.”
One of the surviving children, Makayla Dickerson, stood next to Baldassano as he spoke. Makayla, whose 3-year-old brother Shomari died in the fire, showed reporters scars the fire left on her right forearm.
Tata’s attorneys argued she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years old, and whom Tata had referred to as “her babies.” But prosecutors did not need to show she intended to harm them, only that the deaths occurred because she put them in danger by leaving them alone. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony and that action led to the death.