CROWN POINT | Timothy Tkachik took the stand Thursday in the trial of his ex-girlfriend, Engelica Castillo, who faces a possible sentence of life without parole if convicted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old cousin, Jada Justice.
During nearly daylong testimony, Tkachik, 25, of Hobart, described a heroin-high couple who opted to keep a date to buy more heroin for Tkachik's drug business despite the child having lost consciousness from a beating Tkachik described as lasting hours on June 13.
Tkachik portrayed Castillo, who turns 20 on Friday, as out of control and repeatedly pummeling the child over having made a mess and resisting being made to stand in a corner.
Tkachik testified he was first awakened by a phone call about 10 a.m. June 13.
"I could hear Engelica yelling at Jada," he said, later adding he could hear the child also being spanked.
When he got up about 11 a.m., Castillo had begun to punch the girl for sitting down and playing with her toys while being punished, Tkachik said.
The abuse included poking at the girl and pulling the child's hair so hard it became a knot on her head, he said.
Tkachik testified Castillo slapped the child so hard she fell and hit a glass table, which left her with a cut above the left eye. He said he only held the child down while being beaten with belt because Castillo asked him to.
He testified to doing nothing to stop the alleged beating by Castillo, saying the child was Castillo's responsibility.
Under questioning for an explanation as why he didn't call police, Tkachik said he could have but he had drugs in the house.
He acknowledged striking the girl himself at least five times in hopes that would stop Castillo.
"I wanted it to stop," he said.
When he left the house to avoid the noise of the beating, the child didn't look good but she was alive, he said.
Tkachik testified Castillo insisted on going along on the drug buy though he tried to persuade her to stay home.
With Castillo driving, Tkachik said he noticed the child slumped over in her car seat within a short time of leaving the house.
"She was completely out of it," Tkachik said. "Her eyes were closed."
Tkachik said he jumped into the back seat and could find no pulse.
"I was freaking out, and (Engelica) pulled over," he said.
He went on to describe the couple returning to their house, where they left the child on the back seat under a cover while they switched cars to make the heroin buy in Chicago.
Pressed by Lake County deputy prosecutor David Urbanski as to what could explain not seeking medical aid for the child, Tkachik responded Castillo had manipulated him into it.
Arriving back in Hobart from the drug buy, Tkachik removed the child from the car and placed her body on the kitchen floor, he told jurors.
"The baby was stiff," he said. "I knew she had passed away."
He then placed the child's body into two garbage bags, which he put into the basement after which the couple discussed disposing of the body by cremation.
The botched cremation in a rural area in Westville ended in a fireball exploding in Tkachik's face after which the couple left the child's burnt body in the open pit overnight while they returned home to plot what to do next, Tkachik said.
Tkachik testified they retrieved the body early the next morning, purchased rope, concrete mix and a round container.
Tkachik said he added a layer of concrete mix to the bottom of the container with some water. The body was folded over, tied with the rope and placed in the container, he said. He then donned gloves to fill the container with about three bags of concrete mix that he mixed with water.
The body was then taken to a different location in the same rural area of Westville, where the container was dumped in a body of water.
During cross examination, defense attorney John Maksimovich questioned Tkachik on his conflicting statements to federal agents, his extensive drug dealing and the plea deal reached with state prosecutors.
Not only had Tkachik evaded federal prosecution for his drug activities, but he gained "significant benefits" from the plea bargain, Maksimovich told Tkachik.
The best-case scenario could result in Tkachik's receiving a sentence of about seven years instead of the original 280, Maksimovich said.
"I know I'm not the one more responsible," Tkachik said during the exchange over the plea bargain.
During further questioning by Maksimovich, Tkachik acknowledged Castillo routinely had taken care of the child for several days at a time on a monthly basis with no similar incidents as that on June 13.
Tkachik testified he had not wanted to take care of the child for the two to three weeks Castillo had arranged for the visit, saying he could have been called back to work at any time.
But Tkachik admitted to having $7,000 in the bank and $6,600 in drug money in the house, which was confiscated by federal agents.
By the time of the child's death June 13, the couple had done a line or two of heroin, testimony showed.