Sentence reduced from life in
prison for Jada Justice killer
By Ruth Ann Krause - SunTimes.com
July 31, 2012
The Indiana Supreme Court has overturned the
life sentence for Engelica Castillo, who was convicted of murder,
neglect of a dependent and battery in the beating death of
2-year-old Jada Justice.
The state’s highest court found that the
life-without-parole sentence imposed in 2010 for Castillo was
inappropriate given her role in the crime and that the prosecutor
engaged in misconduct during closing arguments.
The court ordered a 65-year sentence for
Castillo, 21, who will be returned to Lake County from Rockville
Correctional Facility so that Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas
Stefaniak Jr. can impose the revised sentence, which is the
maximum for murder.
“I am pleased that the Supreme Court agreed
with both of the arguments I presented,” said Marce Gonzalez Jr.,
Castillo’s court-appointed appellate attorney. Gonzalez said the
court issued a “very well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion in a
In his oral argument before the Supreme Court,
Gonzalez said he argued it was difficult to justify a life
sentence for his client “when the more culpable co-defendant would
likely be serving 10 to 15 years.”
Co-defendant Timothy Tkachik, 27, pleaded
guilty to neglect of a dependent and battery in June 2010 and
testified against Castillo in exchange for a maximum sentence of
50 years. Inmates receive day-for-day credit for good behavior
The court found that the facts of the case
didn’t support Castillo’s conviction for murder as a principal
player but only as an accomplice in light of evidence that she
slapped, poked, yanked the child by the arms and hair and spanked
her. To be convicted of murder as the principal, the jury must
find that the defendant knowingly or intentionally killed another
The court also found objectionable the
prosecutor’s misstating the law in closing argument by telling
jurors not to compare aggravating and mitigating factors. Indiana
law requires jurors to make such a comparison.
That error, coupled with the prosecutor’s
argument focusing on Castillo’s unsavory character, “not only
placed the defendant in a position of grave peril to which she
should not have been subjected but also presented an undeniable
and substantial potential for an erroneous jury sentencing
recommendation,” the court found.
Castillo was 18 and living with Tkachik, her
then-boyfriend, in Hobart when Jada’s mother, Melissa Swiontek,
brought the Portage toddler for a two-week stay in June 2009.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Castillo became angry and
spanked Jada after finding her with powdered drink mix and
strawberries from the refrigerator.
The following day, on June 13, 2009, Jada
locked herself in the bedroom, where she’d made a mess with syrup
and powdered drink mix. Tkachik testified that Castillo spanked,
slapped and grabbed Jada by the hair after she continued to
About 90 minutes into the confrontation,
Castillo told Tkachik that Jada had hit her head on a table when
Castillo slapped her. Jada had a small cut above her right eye
that bled slightly. Tkachik testified that Jada had red marks on
her face and bruises on her buttocks after Castillo had beaten the
child with a belt.
Tkachik testified he became frustrated with the
ongoing conflict, ran into the bedroom and knuckled Jada “pretty
hard” four to six times, hoping that would end the confrontation
between Castillo and the girl. Still frustrated, Tkachik went to
the gas station. When he returned, he testified he heard, “boom,
boom, boom, boom” coming from the bedroom, but couldn’t see what
was happening because the door was closed.
While Castillo and Tkachik were getting ready
to leave to buy heroin in Chicago, Tkachik testified that Jada had
a bruise on her face and seemed out of it. As they were driving,
the child became unresponsive. They started CPR, returned home,
covered the child’s body with a tarp, got into another vehicle and
After they tried to burn the child’s body, the
couple eventually encased it in cement and dumped it in a swamp in
rural LaPorte County. Castillo concocted a story that the child
had been abducted from a gas station, but eventually Tkachik led
authorities to the body.
Swiontek, 30, Jada’s mother, was charged about
one year ago with neglect of a dependent on allegations she
knowingly or intentionally placed her daughter in a situation that
endangered her life or health because she knew that Castillo and
Tkachik were drug users and dealers. She has pleaded not guilty.
Woman gets life in prison for
By Jessica D'Onofrio - ABC7 Chicago
Friday, September 10, 2010
(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- An Indiana baby
sitter was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for the murder of
the child in her care.
Twenty-year-old Engelica Castillo was convicted
of murdering 2-year-old Jada Justice. In sentencing Castillo, the
judge followed wishes of the jury who convicted the defendant last
What's difficult to understand about the death
of baby Jada is that her babysitter was a relative. Castillo and
Jada's mother are cousins. Over the years, the families leaned on
each other for help with childcare. The families were together for
holidays and birthdays. But Castillo and her boyfriend, apparently
in a heroin-induced high, killed the baby and hid her body last
Melissa Swiontek left the Lake County
Courthouse after saying what's been on her mind for over a year,
her family divided and in mourning.
"She has destroyed our family," Swiontek said.
In court, Swiontek spoke directly to Engelica
Castillo, who was convicted for the murder of Swiontek's daughter,
"I've lost so much. My kids have lost so much,"
Swiontek said. "My baby never had a chance at life. She was only
Swiontek and Castillo are cousins. Their
families had been close until Jada went missing last summer. The
2-year-old had been beaten and her body hidden in a cement
Castillo and her boyfriend Tim Tkachik were
accused. Tkachik made a plea agreement with prosecutors and has
yet to be sentenced.
Thursday, Castillo was sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole. Judge Thomas Stefaniak
said he took the jury's recommendation for sentencing, saying,
"You show no remorse over a dead baby."
Castillo made several outbursts during the
sentencing hearing until the judge threatened to duct tape her
mouth shut. But Castillo was eventually allowed to comment.
"I have to take responsibility for certain
things in my life," Castillo told the court. "Who is anybody to
judge? Nobody is perfect."
"She has no conscience," said Swiontek. "She
doesn't care, and I don't know where that came from and why that
is, but it's the monster that got taken out on my daughter, and
now we all see her for who she is, and I just wish I would have
"She got what she deserved. I hope that in time
she can get a conscience and admit what she did," said Lisa
Huerta, Jada Justice's grandmother.
"If you look at the offense in this matter, so
heinous, a 2-year-old treated in the manner this child was
treated, justice was served today," said Bernard Carter, Lake
Castillo's defense attorneys argued that
Castillo had been sexually abused as a child and had a violent
childhood. But her past seemed to have little influence over the
jury or judge.
Castillo says she plans to appeal.
Hobart woman found guilty in
Friday, August 13, 2010
(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- A jury has found a
20-year-old Hobart, Ind., woman guilty in the murder of a
2-year-old she was baby-sitting last year.
Engelica Castillo was convicted of murder, two
counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing in
connection with the death of Jada Justice, a Lake County
prosecutor announced Thursday. Castillo was convicted after a Lake
Superior Court jury deliberated about two hours.
On Friday, the jury will hear arguments as to
whether Castillo should be sentenced to life in prison without
Castillo was babysitting the toddler when
prosecutors say she beat the child then dumped her body in a swamp
Castillo's then-boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, was
also watching the child. He pleaded guilty to a neglect charge in
June and testified against Castillo. Tkachik faces a maximum term
of 50 years in prison when he is sentenced September 10.
Ex-boyfriend testifies in
toddler murder trial
By Leah Hope - ABClocal.go.com
Friday, August 06, 2010
(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- A 25-year-old
Hobart man testified Thursday that he and his then-girlfriend beat
2-year-old Jada Justice to death more than a year ago.
The ex-boyfriend took the stand in the trial of Engelica Castillo,
accused of murdering her little cousin.
trial began Wednesday in Crown Point, Ind. Jurors first heard from
Jada's mother, who said she left the baby with Castillo for two
weeks and was suspicious of Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik.
Last summer, police, relatives and residents searched for a
missing 2-year-old girl for days. Jada was reported missing by
Castillo. After the girl's body was found, Castillo and her
boyfriend were charged with the murder. Tkachik entered into a
plea bargain in which he agreed to testify against his girlfriend.
On Thursday, Tkachik described how he and Castillo used heroin,
beat the child and when they discovered the 2-year-old was dead,
they plotted ways to dispose of the body, which included two trips
to the store to get supplies, including a container, cement and
rope. He testified that he held the child's stiff, dead body as
Castillo mixed cement in a round container.
Tkachik said the couple did drugs throughout
the ordeal and when the cement hardened around the girl, they
dumped the container in a swamp, first trying to remove their
fingerprints. Then he testified Castillo came up with the idea to
report a false abduction from a gas station.
Under cross-examination, Tkachik testified that he agreed to a
plea bargain to get a lesser sentence.
is planning on several more witnesses including FBI and local
police officers who collected evidence and found Jada's body. The
prosecution expects to rest at the beginning of next week.
The defense say they will call several witnesses. At this point,
Castillo has not decided whether or not to testify in her own
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to
Suspects held without bond in
Saturday, June 27, 2009
(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- The death of a 2-year-old northwest
Indiana girl who had been missing for a week has been ruled a
homicide. The child's 18-year-old babysitter and her boyfriend are
charged with murder.
The suspects were being
held without bond Saturday at the Lake County jail.
The body of Jada Justice was discovered Thursday in rural LaPorte
County. The toddler's body was found exactly one week after Jada's
babysitter told police she had been taken from her car at a gas
station in Hobart.
The toddler's cousin and
babysitter, Engelica Castillo, and her boyfriend, Tim Tkachik, are
facing charges of murder, neglect, battery and falsing informing
in Justice's death.
The details offered thus far
are disturbing to say the least. According to a statement Tkachik
reportedly gave to authorities, he said Castillo killed little
Jada and the two of them worked on a plan to dispose of her body,
first lighting it on fire and then burying it in a barrel filled
It was the news family members
prayed never to hear. But Friday afternoon they could no longer
hold out hope Jada was still alive.
them a photograph of the girl during the autopsy as best we could.
It was a very difficult thing of course to do. That spares them
what I would describe as the hell having to look at the body,"
said coroner John Sullivan.
the authorities filed charges against the two people they had in
custody since Thursday, Castillo and Tkachik.
During questioning, Castillo allegedly stuck to her original story
that Jada disappeared from her car when she went to a Gary gas
station. Her boyfriend, however, offered a different version of
events and his information is what led authorities to her body
Thursday in west LaPorte County.
described how Castillo and he had several lines of heroin before
going to bed the night before Jada's death. The next morning he
said he found Engelica spanking Jada and pulling her hair. Later
that evening he realized Jada was not breathing. Engelica began
screaming and crying. He says they then placed Jada's body in
garbage bags. They tried to light her body on fire but there was
an explosion that burned him in the face and arms. They then put
her body in a tub and filled it with concrete and later came up
with the story about Jada being abducted.
Castillo's attorney says it's not true.
of not guilty will be entered at the first opportunity, and we
believe that once all of the evidence is presented to a fair and
impartial jury she will be cleared of responsibility for her
cousin's death," said T. Edward Page, Angelica's attorney.
Both suspects are being held in Crown Point. The two are scheduled
to make their initial court appearance Monday.
Body found believed to be
missing Gary toddler
By John Garcia - ABCNews.go.com
Friday, June 26,
June 25, 2009 (OTIS, Ind.) (WLS) -- A body
has been found in Indiana that may be the remains of 2-year-old
Jada Justice. She disappeared last week.
Police were called to search an area of western
LaPorte County Thursday morning based on information they had
received in relation to the missing girl. A coroner was called to
the scene early Thursday afternoon, after police found a body in
the fields there.
Police will only say at this
point that it appears that the body is the remains of 2-year-old
Jada Justice. The little girl has been missing since a week and a
half ago when her cousin told police she had disappeared.
Jada's cousin, Angelica Castillo, 18, of Hobart, was watching the
girl at the time she disappeared. Castillo said she left Jada in a
car while she went to buy some milk at a gas station in Gary. And
when she came back Jada was gone.
"It is with
deep sadness that I report this morning investigators discovered
what are believed to be the remains of Jada Justice in rural
LaPorte County east of Highway 421," said Chief Rod Gonzalez,
Hobart Police Dept.
"You always have a hunch of
what's going on. A mother knows, I'm a mother my own self, and
when stories aren't adding up and stuff like that you just know
something. And for it to happen like this, it's devastating right
now," said Angie Balboa, family friend.
said they have two people in custody at this point. They have not
charged them, however, so they are yet to release the names of
those two people. They say if the investigation goes as
anticipated, charges could be filed by Friday afternoon.
Search for missing tot enters
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
(CHICAGO) (WLS) -- The search for a missing northwestern Indiana
toddler has entered its second week.
Investigators say 2-year-old Jada Justice of Portage was
apparently abducted from a car June 16. Her 18-year-old cousin,
who was babysitting the girl, tells police she left her behind as
she went into a convenience store in Gary.
cousin was briefly held as a person of interest but was released.
The FBI says its received more than 100 tips in this case.