Texas Day Care Operator Pleads Not Guilty in Fatal Fire

A woman who fled to Nigeria after a fire killed four children at her Texas home day care center pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges Wednesday, two days after she was returned to the U.S.

HOUSTON -- A woman who fled to Nigeria after a fire killed four children at her Texas home day care center pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges Wednesday, two days after she was returned to the U.S.

Jessica Tata's attorney entered the plea during an arraignment hearing in Houston. Tata, who didn't speak during the court appearance, is facing 14 charges related to the Feb. 24 blaze that also injured three children. Authorities believe she left all seven children alone while she went shopping.

The 22-year-old, who is being held without bond at a Houston jail, was also charged with injury to a child and child abandonment. The manslaughter and injury to a child charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

"There's more to the story," Tata's attorney, Mike DeGeurin, said before the hearing.

Family members of at least two of the victims attended Wednesday's hearing, including relatives of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. They wore white T-shirts with the toddler's picture on the front and a back, with the words: "Gone but never forgotten. I'll always love you."

"I need to see the woman who killed my son," Elias' mother, Keshia Brown, said before the hearing. "I'm not like her. I'm not a coward."

Tata fled the U.S. two days after the fire, which investigators believe started after a stove-top burner was left on inside her Houston home. She was taken into custody in Nigeria over the weekend, and was returned to the U.S. on Monday.

The U.S. Marshals Service, which headed the search for Tata, said a series of tips and other information helped Interpol agents to capture her Saturday. Her family said she turned herself in.

Tata, who was born in the U.S., also has Nigerian citizenship.

Tata was escorted back to Houston late Monday evening. She arrived on a flight to Atlanta earlier in the day.

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