Tata Appears In Court On Theft Charge

Published On: Nov 10 2011 01:56:49 PM CST   Updated On: Oct 14 2011 05:30:59 AM CDT
HOUSTON -

A woman charged in the deaths of four children was in court Friday on a theft charge.

Jessica Tata has been accused of stealing between $1,500 and $20,000 worth of food stamps between September 2007 and February 2011.

"We don't know the full details behind the allegations, but the formal allegation is that there was incorrect information being given to the food stamp program."

Tata pleaded not guilty. Her bond was set at $2,000, but she won't be getting out of jail.

Tata is being held on four counts of felony murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child, all unrelated to the theft charge.

Shomari Dickerson, 3, Elizabeth Kojah, 20 months, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, and Elias Castillo, 16 months, died in the fire at Tata's home in the 2800 block of Crestpark at Waypark shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. The house served as a day care facility called Jackie's Child Care.

Three other children were injured in the blaze.

Arson investigators said the fire started in the kitchen after a pot of oil was left on a hot burner.

Tata was supposed to be watching the children, but Houston Fire Department officials said she was grocery shopping at a Target store nearby when the fire started. Detectives said security video showed her arriving at the store at 1:09 p.m. and driving away from the store at 1:24 p.m. The children had been left home alone, investigators said.

Witnesses said Tata returned as smoke began billowing out of the home. The first call to 911 was made by someone other than Tata at 1:29 p.m., investigators said.

A few days after the fire, Tata left the country for Nigeria.

Tata pled not guilty through her lawyer to the theft charge. She remains in jail.

Her next court appearance was scheduled for Dec. 1.