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Sentencing now focus in Texas day care fire case

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 12:23 am •  Published: November 13, 2012
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"We're thankful for today's verdict," said Nancy Villanueva, one of Elias' aunts. "We're happy."

Defense attorney Mike DeGeurin said he accepted the jury's decision and would now focus on sentencing.

"She's never lost sight of the real victims," DeGeurin said of Tata. "She hasn't forgotten that. It's not all about her."

Tata still faces three more counts of felony murder in relation to the other children who died, and three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child in relation to the three who were injured.

Tata fled to Nigeria in the wake of the fire but was captured after about a month, returned to the U.S. in March 2011 and has remained jailed since. She was born in the U.S. but has Nigerian citizenship.

During her trial, which began Oct. 24, surveillance video was presented that showed Tata shopping at a nearby Target just before the fire occurred at her home day care. A former Target manager told jurors that Tata did not seem to be in a hurry after realizing she had left the stove on while the kids were at the day care.

Neighbors testified that they heard the children crying during their unsuccessful attempts to rescue them from the blaze. Parents told jurors they had trusted Tata, believing she was qualified.

Defense attorneys presented expert testimony to argue that faulty kitchen equipment may have sparked the fire.

Jurors also could have found Tata guilty of four lesser counts. There was brief confusion in court Tuesday when the jury indicated it had reached a verdict, and state District Judge Marc Brown sent them back because they had chosen multiple counts instead of one.