Police suspected cousin from outset

2010-08-07T00:00:00Z 2010-08-07T00:05:18Z Police suspected cousin from outsetBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
August 07, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Police were suspicious of the Hobart woman being tried for the murder of 2-year-old Jada Justice almost from the moment she reported her young cousin missing.

Engelica Castillo's wild mood swings and vague answers finally pushed Hobart Police Officer David Grissom to hold a photograph of the missing child about a foot from her face and tell her he thought she was responsible for the girl's disappearance.

"She slapped the picture away and spits toward me," Grissom told jurors Friday before evidence in the trial ended for the weekend. The trial will resume next week.

Castillo, who turned 20 Friday, is pleading innocent to charges she murdered Justice, of Portage.

Prosecutors allege Castillo beat the child to death June 13, 2009, in a fit of rage during a weeklong babysitting session.

Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, 25, also of Hobart, testified Thursday he saw Castillo spank and hit the child repeatedly for misbehavior and even joined in on the beatings twice.

Tkachik said once the child died, they tried to cover up the crime by burning the body and then encasing it in a small concrete block he dropped into a shallow pond in rural LaPorte County.

Defense attorneys argue the death was accidental, and Tkachik, who has pleaded guilty earlier to child neglect as part of a deal with prosecutors for leniency, is as much to blame as she.

Evidence Friday focused on June 16, 2009, three days after Jada's death when Castillo reported a stranger had abducted the girl from Castillo's car, which was parked in an unlighted area beside a service station in the 1400 block of East Ridge Road in Gary's Glen Park section while Castillo was inside the station getting cigarettes and milk.

Christopher Rodriguez, a former Gary homicide detective and among the first to talk to Castillo, told jurors Friday: "I noticed behavioral patterns in (Castillo) her that seemed narcotic induced. I wasn't sure that she was awake."

Rodriguez said she became emotional only when he asked her if she used drugs and she indignantly denied it.

Rodriguez and Gary police Officer James Nielson said they couldn't get a satisfactory explanation from her about why she was so careless to leave the victim unsupervised.

Gary police kept her in custody overnight. Grissom, who interrogated her the following morning, said he repeatedly asked Castillo why she didn't immediately begin searching for Jada that night, and she responded she knew "Jada was already gone."

"I kept asking what happened to Jada. She would only say God is watching her or God is taking care of her," Grissom testified.

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