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Prosecution rests in neglect case against dead tot’s mother

MelissSwiontek

Melissa Swiontek

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:48AM



Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. is expected to rule Thursday on whether the jury can begin deliberating in the neglect trial of the mother of a murdered 2-year-old.

Moments after deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz rested her case against Melissa Swiontek, defense attorney John Vouga filed a five-page written motion seeking a directed verdict on the Class D felony charge, which is punishable by six months to three years.

“There is not an iota of evidence to meet the elements of neglect of a dependent,” Vouga said.

The charge states that between July 1,2008, and June 11, 2009, Swiontek left three of her children, including Jada Justice, in the care of Engelica Castillo and Timothy Tkachik, with the knowledge that the couple were drug users and dealers and that the situation endangered the children’s life or health.

Castillo, 22, who is serving a 65-year sentence for Jada’s murder, testified that her family, including her cousin, Swiontek, was well aware of her drug addiction, which began when she was 11 years old when she started using cocaine, marijuana, prescription pills and alcohol. Castillo said she and Tkachik would take Jada with them to make drug runs to Chicago.

Castillo and Tkachik briefly lived with Swiontek in Portage. She and Tkachik would “break down” marijuana to package it for sale in the home and Swiontek would smoke marijuana with them, but most of the time the marijuana was kept in Tkachik’s truck because of the odor.

“Keep the (expletive) put up,” Swiontek would tell her, Castillo testified.

Tkachik testified that Swiontek was aware he dealt drugs — marijuana, cocaine and prescription pills — to support himself.

In June 2009, Castillo and Tkachik picked up Jada to spend a week to 10 days with them in their home at 3925 Missouri St., Hobart, but Swiontek extended Jada’s stay. The girl was beaten to death around June 13, 2009, her body burned, then encased in cement and finally dumped in a swamp in Otis in LaPorte County.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Jason Denny, Castillo acknowledged that she lied to police and federal agents when she said Jada had been abducted from a Gary gas station and about how Tkachik was burned on the face and arms while trying to dispose of Jada’s body. Castillo also was convicted of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing.

Denny suggested Castillo had a motive to lie during Swiontek’s trial — to get revenge after Swiontek testified against Castillo at her trial. “I understand why she did,” Castillo said, referring to Swiontek’s testimony and victim impact statement at Castillo’s sentencing hearing.

Tkachik, whose plea agreement requires him to testify against anyone charged in connection with Jada’s death, faces 20 to 50 years for neglect of a dependent, a Class A felony.

Last week, Stefaniak dismissed a charge of neglect of a dependent, a Class A felony, that accused Swiontek of leaving Jada in Castillo’s and Tkachik’s care with knowledge of their drug dealing and use and that it resulted in the girl’s death.



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