Day care owner's trial begins

Jessica Tata charged with 4 counts of murder


HOUSTON – Jury selection began 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 will question 122 prospective jurors for the case. Opening statements could begin on Wednesday.

The judge is not allowing cameras, cellphones or electronic devices in the courtroom.

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.