Aug. 20--A Texas appeals court Tuesday upheld the felony murder conviction of a Houston woman who was sentenced to 80 years in prison for a day care fire that killed four young children and severely injured others.
The fire began on an afternoon in February 2011 with a pot of hot grease that Jessica Tata left on the stove while she had left the children alone -- they were 1 to 3 years old -- while she went to a Target store.
Tata's attorneys had sought in part to convince the appeals court that investigators violated Tata's rights by searching a bag found in the burned home without a warrant. The bag was from the department store.
The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas disagreed, saying it was a legitimate part of the probe.
The bag proved to be a significant clue in the case against Tata, as it contained a receipt with a time stamp that indicated she was actually at the store when the fire started -- and not at the home, where she claimed she had been overcome with smoke and passed out.
Despite Tata's claims that she woke up after overcoming smoke inhalation and sought to save the children, firefighters noticed that she had no soot on her clothing and was not coughing.
An arson investigator spotted the bag, which looked out of place, because it was not covered in soot, according to court papers.
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