Jury picked for day care owner's trial

Jessica Tata charged with 4 counts of murder

HOUSTON - A jury was seated Tuesday in a murder trial stemming from a fire at a Houston home day care center that left four children dead and injured three others.

Jessica Tata, 24, was charged with four counts of murder, three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child.

Shomari Dickerson, 3, Elizabeth Kojah, 20 months, Kendyll Stradford, 20 months, and Elias Castillo, 16 months, died in the fire at Jackie's Child Care on Crestpark at Waypark shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2011. Three other children were injured.

Tata will stand trial for felony murder first for the youngest of the victims -- Elias Castillo.

Lawyers questioned more than 100 prospective jurors for the case. A panel of seven women, five men and two female alternates was chosen.

Opening statements will begin on Wednesday. The judge is not allowing cameras, cellphones or electronic devices in the courtroom.

Despite a lot of publicity in the case, the lawyers never asked for a change of venue.

"There's no question in my mind Jessica Tata can get a fair trial in Harris County," KPRC Local 2 legal analyst Brian Wice said. "The test of being on a jury isn't what you've heard, read or felt about the case, but whether you can put those feelings aside and judge the defendant based on the law and evidence you hear in court."

Prosecutors said Tata left the children alone while she went to a nearby Target store. She left oil in a frying pan over a stove top burner that ignited the blaze while she was at the store.

Tata's attorneys said the murder charge is excessive because she never intended to harm the children.

The judge ruled Wednesday that a Target receipt that allegedly placed her away from home when the day care caught fire can be used in her trial.

Tata fled to Nigeria after the fire, but before she was charged. She was captured a month later.

If convicted, Tata could face up to life in prison.

Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.