A re-creation of how cooking oil heating on a stove started a fire was shown to the jury Friday in the Jessica Tata murder trial.
Tata, 24, is on trial, charged with felony murder. Prosecutors said she left several children home alone with a pan of grease heating on a stove while she went shopping in 2011. When she got home, the house was on fire, officials said.
Four children were killed in the fire.
Fire expert David Reiter took the stand on Friday. He said he thinks the fire started in the pan on the stove. He said it would have taken at least 15 minutes to heat the oil to more than 700 degrees before the fire began.
Reiter was asked about a consumer warnings about possible wiring problems, a recall on mechanical elements and if a knob malfunction could have caused the fire.
The jury also video of inside the home after the fire. There was extensive damage in the kitchen. The cabinets were gutted and the heat melted a microwave and part of the refrigerator. The video also showed the children's toys, cribs and clothing that were covered in soot.
Ronaldo Velasco, the owner of the home where Tata ran the day care, also took the stand. He said he did not know that a day care was being operated in the home.
On Thursday, jurors saw video of the inside of the home after the fire. They also saw soot outlines of where the children were during the fire.
Chief Fire Investigator Thomas Wood was in charge of finding the cause of the fire. He testified that every fire leaves a story and that if it's interpreted correctly, it will give investigators answers.
Part of the story included the aluminum frying pan and the stove that was heating it.
Wood testified that the fire began inside the pan, which was filled with cooking oil. He said it had been left heating unattended on the stove.
On Wednesday, arson investigator Anita Delgadillo told the jury about several items that were found after the fire, including a dry erase board with the day care's schedule and a paper schedule that was found on a refrigerator in the kitchen.
Delgadillo told the jury that a smoke detector in the master bedroom of the home had batteries missing from it. Two other smoke detectors in the home were hardwired into the home's electricity system. None of the firefighters and neighbors who previously testified remembered hearing any of the smoke detectors going off.
The jury also heard about a Target bag that was found about 7 feet from the front door. A receipt inside the bag was time-stamped 1:18 p.m. and shows that Tata spent $9.03 on Gatorade and Minute Maid Berry Punch. Also in the bag was an empty Starbucks glass with a straw. Surveillance video previously shown during the trial showed Tata lingering near the Starbucks but did not show her being served.
Arson investigator Joe Pradier said he and his partner tried to interview Tata several hours after she arrived at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Katy. Pradier said Tata told them that she didn't remember anything, her heart was racing, she was in shock and she didn't know why she was in the hospital. She said she didn't want to be there, Pradier said.
Nurse Deborah Joyce told jurors that Tata was not in shock and showed no signs of injury other than a scratch on her left thumb. Joyce said Tata never appeared to be confused or disoriented around her and that before investigators arrived Tata was talking and laughing with her sisters while they watched television.
Senior Capt. David Swanson led the three-man search team that went into the burning home. He told the jury Tuesday that he and his crew crawled on hands and knees and were unable to see through the thick smoke. They used a thermal camera to search for the children. He said that one of the men found a baby laying under a card table near the kitchen, but the rest of the men didn't know because of the poor visibility.
Swanson said he and firefighter Jonathan Robinson bumped into cribs in a back bedroom. That's where they found two children.
A neighbor told jurors Monday that Tata tried to save children who were inside her burning home day care.
Christian Wendeberg, who lived near the burning home, testified that he saw Tata dash into the house to rescue the children. He said she came out with two children, one of whom was unconscious. Both had suffered burns, he said.
Wendeberg shot cellphone video of the fire, too. He asked Tata how many children were inside the home when the fire started. She told him there were nine children in the home, Wendeberg said.
After seven children were pulled from the home, firefighters continued to search for two more children.
"We were told there were between seven and nine, so we were told to keep looking," firefighter Luis Carmona said.
Investigators said there were only seven children in the home and two of them were found in the back yard.
A second neighbor, Sandra Sawyer, also told a jury Monday that Tata told her that nine children were inside the home. Sawyer said she went through Tata's cellphone and read out the names of the children and their parents. That's when Tata realized that only seven children were there, Sawyer said.