CROWN POINT | Melissa Swiontek, the mother of slain Portage toddler Jada Justice, faces a lesser felony charge following Thursday's ruling by Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr.
Swiontek was charged with two counts of neglect of a dependent, the more serious of which carried a penalty upon conviction of between 20 and 50 years in prison.
However Swiontek's defense team filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the law and the state's own presentation of the facts.
In a three-page ruling, Stefaniak partially sided with the defense, leaving Swiontek instead facing a lesser felony offense with a possible sentence of six months to three years if convicted at trial, which starts Monday.
The 31-year-old Swiontek, of Portage, was charged in July 2011. Prosecutors cited her knowledge of drug use and drug dealing by the couple caring for her daughter when the child was beaten to death in June 2009.
Swiontek had left the 2-year-old with her cousin, Engelica Castillo, and Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, both of Hobart. Castillo was convicted of the murder and is serving a 65-year sentence. Tkachik pleaded guilty to neglect charges and is awaiting sentencing following Swiontek's trial.
In dismissing the more serious neglect count against Swiontek, Stefaniak in his ruling cited the defense use of a statute "so narrowly constructed" he had rarely, if ever, seen it used in motions to dismiss.
The statute sets out limited circumstances whereby a case can be dismissed pretrial. The law requires the motion to be granted when the facts fail to support the alleged offense.
In his order, Stefaniak finds the state cannot prove according to the law's parameters Swiontek placed the child in a situation that would likely lead to her death.
"While the outcome for Jada Justice is unconscionable and unimaginable, the fact remains that, based on 30 past babysitting outings, (Swiontek's) children were returned with no concerns whatsoever," the ruling states. "Mere knowledge of drug usage and drug dealing do not automatically impute knowledge that Jada Justice would be in danger to be beaten to death."
On the other hand, Stefaniak allowed the lesser neglect count to stand based on the statute requiring a different set of proof on the issue of endangerment. Stefaniak cited Swiontek's knowledge of the couple's drug use and drug dealing as sufficient for not dismissing the charge.