Mom of murdered Portage toddler charged with neglect of a dependent

2011-07-22T16:45:00Z 2012-02-18T17:50:57Z Mom of murdered Portage toddler charged with neglect of a dependentBy Deborah Laverty, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223

CROWN POINT | The mother of murdered Portage toddler Jada Justice has been charged in connection with her June 2009 death.

Melissa Swiontek, 29, of Portage, was charged Thursday with one count neglect of a dependent, a Class A felony and a second count of neglect of a dependent, a class D felony. The charges come nearly a year after the relative Swiontek left her daughter with was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

If convicted of neglect, Swiontek faces 20 to 30 years in prison for the Class A felony charge and six months to three years for the Class D felony.

Hobart police, in court documents, said Swiontek "knowingly or intentionally placed her daughter, Jada Justice, in a situation that endangered her life or health and which resulted in her death."

Court documents also state Swiontek had prior knowledge her cousin, Engelica Castillo, and Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, were drug users and dealers. She previously told investigators she left the toddler with the couple for potty training.

Swiontek had asked for, and received marijuana from Tkachik before that, and she was present once when Castillo and Tkachik were bagging and selling cocaine to customers, police said.

Jada Justice died from injuries inflicted upon her while in the care of Castillo.

Prosecutors charged Tkachik, then 25, and the then-20-year-old Castillo, both of Hobart, with murder, two counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing in June 2009 after the child's body was found burned and encased in concrete in a LaPorte County swamp.

In the plea bargain reached with prosecutors, Tkachik admitted 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.

He said the beatings began when the child irritated Castillo by, among other things, dumping a package of drink mix and spilling a container of syrup.

Castillo was convicted on all counts in August and sentenced to life without parole in September.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter earlier this year confirmed Tkachik's sentencing had been continued again due to an ongoing investigation.

"There's another individual we're looking at," Carter said at the time.

Carter on Friday confirmed Swiontek was that individual.

Tkachik has pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of a dependent for his role in the child's death. He still faces sentencing, which won't be held until after Swiontek's trial.

That's because Tkachik may serve as a material witness in Swiontek's trial, Carter said. 

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