CROWN POINT | Defense attorneys for the mother of a 2-year-old Portage girl killed by others and later found encased in concrete in a LaPorte County swamp are seeking to have charges against the woman dismissed.
Melissa Swiontek — mother of Jada Justice, whose brutal death horrified the region four years ago — is scheduled to go to trial Monday on two counts of neglect of a dependent. If convicted on the more serious count, Swiontek faces a prison sentence of between 20 and 50 years.
Defense attorney John Vouga argued the state was required to show Swiontek had reason to know she had placed the child in a dangerous situation by leaving the girl with her cousin, Engelica Castillo, and Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, both of Hobart.
Yet there had been no evidence of harm in the 30 prior times Swiontek had left the child in the couple's care, Vouga said.
Vouga argued the law also requires a direct connection between Swiontek's actions and the child's death, yet the state is relying solely on Swiontek's knowledge the couple used and dealt drugs.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz argued that in itself was an inherently dangerous situation.
"A reasonable parent would not give a child to someone who was actively taking and dealing drugs," she said.
With the trial just days away, Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. said he would rule on the issue by noon Thursday.
Jatkiewicz likened Swiontek's actions to that of playing Russian roulette with the child's life.
The charges against Swiontek came in July 2011, nearly a year after Castillo was convicted of murder in the girl's death.
The Indiana Supreme Court has since reduced Castillo's life sentence to 65 years, ruling the life sentence inappropriate based on the evidence.
Swiontek had left the child with Castillo, then 18, and Tkachik, then 23. The child was repeatedly beaten by the pair June 13, 2009, and is believed to have died from a blow to the head by Tkachik.
Tkachik pleaded guilty to two counts of felony neglect of a dependent and is expected to be sentenced after testifying at Swiontek's trial.