CROWN POINT | Retired FBI agent Theodore May opened the trial against 31-year-old Melissa Swiontek on Monday, testifying Swiontek admitted early in the investigation knowing her daughter's babysitters used marijuana.
Swiontek's 2-year-old toddler, Jada Justice, was beaten to death by those babysitters in 2009. They included Swiontek's cousin, Engelica Castillo and Castillo's 23-year-old boyfriend Timothy Tkachik.
May told the six-person jury Swiontek was concerned about how thin Castillo had grown, noting she was unsure whether it was caused by drug use or her bipolar condition.
Swiontek, of Portage, is on trial on a charge of neglect of a dependent in connection to slaying of Jada Justice by Castillo and Tkachik, who will testify during the weeklong trial.
Swiontek is accused of endangering the child's life and health by leaving her with the couple, both drug users and drug dealers.
Lake County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz and defense attorney Jason Denny presented opposing views of Swiontek.
Jatkiewicz said evidence will prove Swiontek failed not only Jada but her two other children "in every regard."
Jatkiewicz told jurors Castillo and Tkachik would testify to Swiontek's knowledge of their drug use and their use of it around the children.
Describing Castillo and Takchik each as "train wrecks," Jatkiewicz said Swiontek opened her doors to them and learned of Tkachik's dealing of marijuana, later extending to cocaine and prescription drugs.
Denny, however, cautioned jurors to pay attention to "who's making those accusations."
Denny told jurors the state would parade two murderers before them to point their fingers at Swiontek.
Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against Tkachik in exchange for his testimony not only against Castillo but Swiontek, Denny said.
The pair lied throughout the investigation into the child's death to authorities and Jada Justice's family, he said.
Denny argued Swiontek had no reason to know the couple would kill the child after having cared for her more than 30 times and returning her without a bump or a bruise.
"Engelica was trusted by her entire family," Denny argued, saying the girl had cared for more than 15 children within the family without any harm done to them.
"Neither Melissa nor anyone else expected that," he said.
Denny told jurors the child's death occurred just months after the couple starting using heroin.
The trial continues today.