Man convicted for role in toddler’s death says mom knew of drug dealing
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent June 25, 2013 6:48PM
Updated: July 27, 2013 6:39AM
One of the prosecution’s key witnesses in the neglect trial of the mother of a murdered 2-year-old testified he made “thousands and thousands” by selling drugs in the year before her death.
Timothy Tkachik, whose plea agreement in the murder of Jada Justice requires his truthful testimony against anyone else involved in the child’s death, said Jada’s mother, Melissa Swiontek, saw him flash large amounts of cash at different times and witnessed a drug deal in 2008.
Swiontek, 31, is being tried on a charge of neglect of a dependent, which is punishable by six months to three years. Deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz must prove that Swiontek knowingly or intentionally placed Jada and two of her other children in the care of Tkachik and his then-girlfriend, Engelica Castillo, with the knowledge that the couple dealt and used drugs.
Tkachik and Castillo, who is Swiontek’s cousin, lived with Swiontek in Portage for a few weeks. Tkachik said Swiontek would smoke a blunt on the back porch after the children were asleep and Tkachik would package marijuana in a bedroom that belonged to Jada, where the couple stayed, or in the bathroom, but he kept his cocaine-dealing secret from her.
On Halloween 2008, Tkachik said he completed a drug transaction in front of Swiontek’s house, which he said Swiontek witnessed.
“Give me $10. Let me get a cut,” Tkachik recalled her saying. “She made an indication that she wanted something for the drug deal that just went down.”
Defense attorney John Vouga hammered at the benefit that Tkachik received from his plea agreement and the fact that Tkachik initially lied to police who were investigating Jada’s disappearance.
Tkachik pleaded guilty in September 2010 to two counts of neglect of a dependent and faces 20 to 50 years.
He testified against Castillo, who is serving a 65-year sentence for murder.
Tkachik appeared to reluctantly admit his role in Jada’s beating death in June 2009 while she was staying with Tkachik and Castillo at a Hobart rental house.
“You murdered Jada Justice on June 13, 2009?” Vouga said.
“I was involved in it, yes,” Tkachik replied.
Tkachik acknowledged that he and Castillo didn’t tell Swiontek about their heroin use, which Tkachik said started around May 2009, but that she was aware he dealt marijuana, cocaine and pills.
“She was cool with it,” said Tkachik, 26, who has spent four years in Lake County Jail.
When police began investigating Jada’s disappearance after Castillo fabricated a story that the child was abducted from a Gary gas station, Tkachik said he flushed 6 grams of heroin down the toilet after hearing a knock at the door.
Once he looked outside and saw it was Swiontek and two of her friends, he said he offered her a handful of pills just to get them out of the house.
Tkachik also admitted he lied to police early in the investigation, but eventually led them to the girl’s body, which had been burned, encased in cement and dumped in a swamp in Otis.