In a courtroom where the parents of tiny victims wore lingering grief on tear-stained faces, sympathy for 24-year-old Jessica Tata was hard to find.
Defense attorney Mike DeGuerin endeavored to muster as much empathy as he could, claiming the abandonment of seven small children was an inexcusable but isolated mistake. The death of four in the daycare fire he labeled a tragic, but "unintended consequence."
"When Jessica took these babies in, they became her babies and she called them her babies. She didn't want those babies to be harmed. That was never her intention and we all know that," said DeGuerin. "She is a good person that cared about children."
Almost all of the evidentiary ammo in the sentencing phase of the murder trial lay with the prosecution. Assistant Harris County District Attorney Connie Spence unleashed all of it.
"What culminated in this tragedy, what culminated in that day was months in the making," said Spence.
Spence hammered Tata's repeated abandonment of children in her care and the failure to return to the daycare from shopping after realizing she had left a grease-filled pan smoldering on a hot stove. Instead of rushing home, Spence reminded the jury Tata stopped by Starbucks.
"She knew the limitations of those babies and she exploited it. She came and went as she pleased," argued Spence.
Spence also pounded home the fact that before the child victims had even been buried, Tata had fled to Nigeria.
"What is a child's life worth? They will never be back and what could have been will never be," said Spence, wiping tears from eyes.
The jury returns to deliberate punishment Wednesday with the option of sentencing Tata to as little as five years in prison or as much as a life term.