Texas day care owner faces murder charges in fire

HOUSTON (AP) — The operator of a Houston home day care center was charged with murder Wednesday in the deaths of four children in a fire last month that also injured three other children.

Court records show authorities filed four counts of murder against Jessica Tata, 22. She already had been charged with four counts of manslaughter, six counts of reckless injury to a child and three counts of abandoning a child under 15 arising from the Feb. 24 fire at Tata’s home day care center. One count of reckless injury to a child was dismissed.

Authorities believe she left all seven children alone while she went shopping, and the fire was ignited by a stove-top burner that was left on at her Houston home. She caught a flight to Nigeria two days later, as investigators scrambled to convince prosecutors to file charges.

She returned March 21 and later pleaded not guilty to all of the earlier charges against her. She is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges Thursday morning. She remains in the Harris County Jail without bond.

Messages left with a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday night were not returned.

Tata’s attorney, Mike DeGuerin of Houston, declined to comment, saying he had not yet reviewed the new charges.

DeGuerin previously has said the fire a tragic accident and said that was more to the story, though he declined to elaborate. He also has denied allegations that his client fled to Nigeria to escape the charges. He said Tata, who was born in the U.S. but has Nigerian citizenship, met with a judge and two attorneys in Nigeria after she learned of the charges in Texas, and with the help of her father made arrangements to turn herself in.

The mother of one of the four children who died in the fire has sued Tata, accusing her of negligence.

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