US & Canada

Jessica Tata gets 80 years over Texas child-care death

Jessica Tata is seen in Houston's Harris County Criminal Justice Center 13 November 2012
Image caption Jessica Tata will be eligible for parole after 30 years in prison

A Texas woman convicted over the death of a toddler in a fire in her home child-care centre has been sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Four children died and three others were injured when a fire broke out after Jessica Tata left them alone to go shopping.

Investigators said the blaze began when a pan of oil she had left cooking ignited while she was out.

The 24-year-old still faces charges for the three other deaths.

Although she did not intend to kill the child, under Texas law a person can be convicted of murder if he or she committed an underlying offence and that action led to the death.

The jury could have sentenced Tata to a range of terms: from five years to life in prison. She is eligible for parole after 30 years.

'Nobody wins'

At the sentencing hearing in a Houston courtroom, the great-grandmother of Elias Castillo, who died aged 16 months, said that while she holds Tata accountable for what happened, she forgives her.

"Nobody wins in this situation," Patty Sparks said afterwards. "My heart goes out to the Tata family and those precious mothers and fathers who lost their babies."

During the trial, Tata's defence lawyers argued that she was a good person who loved children but had made a terrible mistake.

Defence lawyer Mike DeGeurin said he still believes Tata should not have been tried for murder because the deaths were an accident.

"The sentence is not going to fix things," he said. "It's not going to make anybody feel better later on. But the jury has spoken. That's their sentence."

Prosecutors argued that she was an irresponsible day-care owner who had repeatedly left the children in her care.

"She was being paid to watch these children. She knew better," prosecutor Steve Baldassano said. "It's nobody's fault but her own."

Jurors deliberated for seven hours over two days. Tata had no visible reaction after the sentence was announced.