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Mother of Jada Justice charged with neglect

July 25, 2011 9:06:31 AM PDT
The Indiana mother of a toddler who was beaten to death two years ago has been arrested in connection with the case.

Melissa Swiontek, 29, of Portage is charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in the child's death.

Prosecutors say Swiontek knew she was leaving her daughter, 2-year-old Jada Justice, with known drug dealers.

Jada died in 2009 after being beaten to death by Swiontek's cousin and the cousin's boyfriend. If convicted of neglect, Swiontek faces 20 to 30 years in prison.

Swiontek was arrested at about 8 a.m. Friday by members of the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force. Officers executed the arrest warrant at Swiontek's home in the 6900 block of Eisenhower Street and forced entry after knocking for about 10 minutes with no response, a spokesman said. She was home alone.

Swiontek's cousin, Engelica Castillo, 20, is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole plus five years for Jada's murder.

Timothy Tkachik, 25, pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of a dependent in Jada's death and is awaiting sentencing by Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., on Sept. 9. He faces a maximum 50-year prison term.

In the summer of 2006, Tkachik was dealing cocaine and marijuana when he began dating Castillo. Around Christmas 2006, Castillo introduced Tkachik to her family, including Swiontek, her first cousin. Castillo violated juvenile probation and went on the run with Tkachik, moving between residences in Lake and Porter counties and eventually moving in with Swiontek.

According to information provided by Tkachik, soon after he and Castillo moved in with Swiontek, she learned that Tkachik was dealing marijuana. Swiontek told them not to keep large quantities in her house and told them to smoke outside, but accepted marijuana from Tkachik and Castillo for her own personal use and left Jada and her younger son with them, court records state. Castillo told investigators that Swiontek was present when she and Tkachik were bagging cocaine, and Castillo sold cocaine to an ex-boyfriend in front of Swiontek, court records state.

After the couple moved into a trailer in Valparaiso, Swiontek continued to smoke marijuana with Tkachik and Castillo and would bring her children to stay with them. Afterward, Tkachik and Castillo moved into the basement of a home in Valparaiso where there was a large amount of traffic from drug sales. Swiontek dropped off her children there for Castillo and Tkachik to watch.

In the summer of 2008, Tkachik and Castillo moved to a home in the 3900 block of Missouri Street, Hobart, where Tkachik told police he bragged around the amount of money he was making from his drug-dealing and showed Swiontek a large amount of cash, court records state. Tkachik provided Swiontek with prescription painkillers, and she continued to tell Tkachik and Castillo to be careful.

In October 2008, Tkachik and Castillo arrived at Swiontek's home in Portage to take the children trick-or-treating, and Tkachik told police he conducted a drug deal outside Swiontek's home.

For about one year starting in the summer of 2008, Tkachik and Castillo would watch Swiontek's three children for days at a time. Both Tkachik and Castillo told police it would be difficult to reach Swiontek, who wouldn't pick up the children when she said she would. "Girl, I knew they were OK, you had them," Swiontek is quoted in court records as saying.

Castillo had agreed to watch Jada during the first week of June 2009. Tkachik was dealing marijuana, cocaine and heroin at the time. The couple picked up the girl, then completed a drug deal.

Tkachik, who testified against Castillo during her two-week trial last year, said Castillo beat Jada to death because she'd dumped a package of drink mix and spilled a container of syrup. Tkachik admitted he held the girl down while Castillo repeatedly struck her with a belt during a prolonged beating. Jada suffered skull fractures and received no medical care. Afterward, the couple tried to dispose of Jada's body by burning it, but Tkachik suffered severe burns instead. They encased the child's body in cement and dumped it in a rural LaPorte County swamp. Afterward, they fabricated a story that Jada had been abducted after being left alone in a car outside a gas station.

On June 25, 2009, Tkachik directed police to the area where they tried to burn the child's body and where she later was dumped.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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