Woman gets life in prison for toddler murder

September 9, 2010 (CROWN POINT, Ind.)

Twenty-year-old Engelica Castillo was convicted of murdering 2-year-old Jada Justice. In sentencing Castillo, the judge followed wishes of the jury who convicted the defendant last month.

What's difficult to understand about the death of baby Jada is that her babysitter was a relative. Castillo and Jada's mother are cousins. Over the years, the families leaned on each other for help with childcare. The families were together for holidays and birthdays. But Castillo and her boyfriend, apparently in a heroin-induced high, killed the baby and hid her body last June.

Melissa Swiontek left the Lake County Courthouse after saying what's been on her mind for over a year, her family divided and in mourning.

"She has destroyed our family," Swiontek said.

In court, Swiontek spoke directly to Engelica Castillo, who was convicted for the murder of Swiontek's daughter, Jada Justice.

"I've lost so much. My kids have lost so much," Swiontek said. "My baby never had a chance at life. She was only 2."

Swiontek and Castillo are cousins. Their families had been close until Jada went missing last summer. The 2-year-old had been beaten and her body hidden in a cement container.

Castillo and her boyfriend Tim Tkachik were accused. Tkachik made a plea agreement with prosecutors and has yet to be sentenced.

Thursday, Castillo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Judge Thomas Stefaniak said he took the jury's recommendation for sentencing, saying, "You show no remorse over a dead baby."

Castillo made several outbursts during the sentencing hearing until the judge threatened to duct tape her mouth shut. But Castillo was eventually allowed to comment.

"I have to take responsibility for certain things in my life," Castillo told the court. "Who is anybody to judge? Nobody is perfect."

"She has no conscience," said Swiontek. "She doesn't care, and I don't know where that came from and why that is, but it's the monster that got taken out on my daughter, and now we all see her for who she is, and I just wish I would have known before."

"She got what she deserved. I hope that in time she can get a conscience and admit what she did," said Lisa Huerta, Jada Justice's grandmother.

"If you look at the offense in this matter, so heinous, a 2-year-old treated in the manner this child was treated, justice was served today," said Bernard Carter, Lake County prosecutor.

Castillo's defense attorneys argued that Castillo had been sexually abused as a child and had a violent childhood. But her past seemed to have little influence over the jury or judge.

Castillo says she plans to appeal.

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