CROWN POINT – Defense lawyers have asked a judge to dismiss neglect charges against a northwestern Indiana woman who left her 2-year-old daughter with two people who later killed the child.
Melissa Swiontek of Portage is scheduled to go on trial Monday in connection with the 2009 slaying of her daughter, Jada Justice, whose body was found encased in concrete in a swamp near Westville in June 2009, about two weeks after she was reported missing by a relative.
Engelica Castillo of Hobart, who had been baby-sitting Jada, was convicted in August 2010 of murder and neglect in the child’s beating death. She received a life sentence, but the Indiana Supreme Court later reduced that to 65 years. Her boyfriend, Tim Tkachik, pleaded guilty but his sentencing was postponed until after Swiontek’s trial, The Times reports.
Castillo originally said the toddler disappeared from a car while she was inside a Gary convenience store. But court documents said Tkachik told police that Castillo had beaten the child severely on the head and they later realized she was dead. Tkachik put the body in garbage bags the next day and took it to a wooded area, where he tried unsuccessfully to burn it. When that didn’t work, the pair entombed Jada’s remains in a tub full of concrete and sank it in a swamp near Westville. Tkachik later led police to the area where the body was dumped.
Swiontek was charged in 2011.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz argued that Swiontek should have realized that it was inherently dangerous to leave Jada with Castillo, her cousin, and Tkachik, because they used drugs.
A reasonable parent would not give a child to someone who was actively taking and dealing drugs, Jatkiewicz said.
Defense attorney John Vouga argued that the state was required to show Swiontek had reason to know she had placed the child in a dangerous situation.