Woman gets 80 years for deadly Texas day care fire

Associated Press Modified: November 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm •  Published: November 20, 2012
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Defense attorneys had presented expert testimony to argue that a faulty stove or refrigerator may have sparked the blaze.

Prosecutor Steve Baldassano said that while he has sympathy for Tata's family, she had nobody to blame but herself.

"She was being paid to watch these children. She knew better," Baldassano said. "It's not the stove. It's not the refrigerator. It's not any parents' fault. It's nobody's fault but her own."

One of the surviving children, Makayla Dickerson, stood next to Baldassano as he spoke. Makayla, whose 3-year-old brother Shomari died in the fire, showed reporters scars the fire left on her right forearm.

Tata's attorneys argued she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years old, and whom Tata had referred to as "her babies." But prosecutors did not need to show she intended to harm them, only that the deaths occurred because she put them in danger by leaving them alone. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony and that action led to the death.

In a victim impact statement Sparks read in court after the verdict was announced, she told Tata the children were never "your babies."

"They don't belong to you. They never did," she said.

But Sparks said that while she holds Tata accountable for what happened, she forgives her. After reading the statement, Sparks went over to Tata's mother in the courtroom and hugged her.

Jurors declined to speak with reporters after the sentence was announced.

Tata fled to Nigeria after 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.

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 hurt. Baldassano said prosecutors planned to pursue trials on the remaining felony murder charges.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano at http://www.twitter.com/juanlozano70



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