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Man testifies in Texas day care fire

HOUSTON — A Texas woman accused of murdering four children who died last year at a fire in her home day care did not seem to be frantic or in a hurry after remembering while out shopping that she had left a stove burner on, a former store manager testified Friday.

Investigators have said Jessica Tata, 24, had left the children alone at her home while she went shopping at a nearby Target when a fire broke out in her kitchen, killing four children and injuring three others.

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Tata’s lawyers say she never intended to hurt the children, who ranged in age from 16 months to 3 years old, and that she tried to save them from the February 2011 fire. Tata is being tried on one of four felony murder counts she faces, related to the death of 16-month-old Elias Castillo. She faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Ray Menzies, who was a manager at the Target, said he talked to Tata at the store after she complained about a price discrepancy over some pants she had bought the night before. Menzies told jurors that after Tata finished paying for her items at 1:19 p.m., he walked her over to a nearby kiosk to have her fill out a customer survey. The former store manager said as he talked with Tata about the survey, she suddenly remembered having left the stove on in her day care. Menzies said Tata indicated her sister was asleep at the day care, though authorities have said no adult was in the home and Tata did not have anyone working for her.

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