Co-defendant in Jada Justice case enters guilty plea

2010-06-22T00:00:00Z 2010-08-06T15:30:02Z Co-defendant in Jada Justice case enters guilty pleaBy Susan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | Timothy Tkachik, co-defendant in last summer's slaying of Portage toddler Jada Justice, pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of a dependent Monday morning for his role in the child's death.

The two counts of neglect of a dependent are both Class A felonies, which carry sentences ranging from 20 to 50 years each, which would be served concurrently.

The plea agreement was taken under advisement by Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., who set sentencing for Sept. 10.

Stefaniak sought assurance from Tkachik that he understood the agreement required his testimony against co-defendant Engelica Castillo.

Prosecutors last June charged Tkachik, 24, and his girlfriend, 19-year-old Castillo, with murder, two counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing after the child's body was found burned and encased in concrete in a LaPorte County swamp.

Tkachik initially had confirmed Castillo's story that Jada had been abducted from a gas station in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood. He later told police Castillo killed the 2-year-old, and he helped dispose of the body, authorities said at the time of charging.

In the plea bargain reached with prosecutors, Tkachik admits to participating in beating the child, delivering several blows to the girl's head and holding the child down while Castillo repeatedly struck her with a belt.

Tkachik said the beatings June 12 through 16 last summer began when the child irritated Castillo by, among other things, dumping a package of drink mix and spilling a container of syrup.

In the plea agreement, Tkachik contends Castillo responded by repeatedly striking the child and admits to ultimately joining in.

The child stopped breathing from her injuries while the couple were traveling in a car with neither obtaining medical attention for the girl, authorities said. Instead, the couple allowed the child to die in the back seat of the car where they left her body.

Castillo, who is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 2, faces a potential sentence of life without parole if convicted.

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