A young US woman is waiting to find out if she will be found guilty of murder by a jury, after four unsupervised children died when a fire broke out at her home day care centre while she was out shopping.
Jessica Tata, 24, of Houston, is charged with four counts of felony murder but is currently being tried on only one count - for the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo.
Investigators said Ms Tata left the children alone at her home and was shopping at a nearby Target store when the fire broke out. Investigators say the blaze was sparked by oil in a frying pan on a stove-top burner that had been left on.
The attorney for Ms Tata said the deadly blaze was a "tragic accident", not a murder, and might have been started by a malfunctioning refrigerator. Prosecutors called the claim about the refrigerator "crazy".
Another three children were injured in the resulting fire.
Ms Tata faces up to life in prison if convicted of felony murder, though jurors can find her guilty on several lesser counts.
'She's the only person to blame'
Prosecutor Steve Baldassano said Ms Tata failed in her duty to protect the children and was now trying to avoid responsibility for her actions.
"They are trying to blame the stove, the refrigerator. She's the only person to blame. It's 100 per cent her fault," he said.
Defence attorney Mike DeGeurin acknowledged the former day-care owner left the children alone.
"She should never have left. It was a terrible accident ... What it's not, is murder," he said.
Mr DeGeurin questioned whether the stove was on when Ms Tata left, and suggested that burn patterns and other evidence pointed to the refrigerator as a possible cause of the blaze.
He also questioned testimony from a former Target manager who said he remembered Ms Tata saying she had left the stove burner on and didn't appear to be in a hurry to leave the store. Mr DeGeurin said Ms Tata or the manager might have misremembered.
"Who among us has not self-doubted yourself in a situation like that?" he said.
But Baldassano again showed jurors surveillance video of Ms Tata shopping at Target during the time her home was on fire.
As the video played, Mr Baldassano said Ms Tata never seemed rushed, even after remembering the stove was on.
"She doesn't seem to care at all she left those kids home alone," he said. "She's just hanging out, going to Target."
Ms Tata had initially told investigators she was at home when the fire began.
Jurors can convict Ms Tata of several lesser charges, including recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child, abandoning a child, endangering a child and causing serious bodily injury to a child by criminal negligence. The lesser charges carry prison sentences ranging from six months to 20 years.
Convincing jurors that Ms Tata was responsible for leaving the burner on could be important for prosecutors in getting a felony murder conviction. Prosecutors do not need to show that Ms Tata intended to harm the children, only that the deaths occurred because her actions put them in danger.
Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of felony murder if he or she committed an underlying felony that led to a death.
Neighbours tried to save children
During the two-week trial, prosecutors presented about 30 witnesses, including neighbours who testified about hearing the children crying as they tried to rescue them.
One neighbour, John Chestnut, told the court Ms Tata was screaming "the kids are burning" as he got on his hands and knees and crawled into the home.
Mr Chestnut, 21, said he could hear the children as he went through a back door and crawled through the kitchen. "All I hear is screaming, babies crying. I couldn't tell where they were at all," Mr Chestnut said. "I was calling out for them. It's all I could do."
Ultimately, he was forced to turn back as smoke filled his mouth and he could not breathe.
Mr Chestnut had also made a 911 call to emergency services, one of several, during the fire.
In one 911 call from Ms Tata that lasted several minutes, the distraught day-care owner could be heard telling an operator, "Children are dying ... I can't see anything. My kids are dying ... they're all babies. Hurry, please hurry."
At one point in the call, Ms Tata yelled out, "Are you in there?" and a child's voice could be heard responding: "Yeah."
Ms Tata then told the child, "Crawl out the window. I can't see you." At other times during the call, children could be heard crying in the background.
At the end of the call, Ms Tata said, "Please help me. Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do."
Parents said they trusted Tata
Parents of the children who died or were injured testified that they had trusted Ms Tata, believing she was qualified.
Elias Castello's mother, Keisha Brown, could be seen to cry during closing arguments as she sat next to her husband Luis Hernandez.
After the fire, Ms Tata fled to Nigeria but was captured after about a month and returned to the US in March 2011. She has remained jailed since then. She was born in the US but has Nigerian citizenship.
In addition to the felony murder counts, she was also indicted on three counts of abandoning a child and two counts of reckless injury to a child.
Jurors deliberated for about 4½ hours on Monday before ending their work. They were set to resume deliberating on Tuesday, local time. The jury is being sequestered during its deliberations.
AP with smh.com.au