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Engelica E. CASTILLO





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Baby sitter
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 13, 2009
Date of arrest: June 25, 2009
Date of birth: 1990
Victim profile: Jada Justice, 2 (the child in her care)
Method of murder: Beating
Location: Lake County, Indiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on September 8, 2010. Sentence reduced to 65 years in prison on July 30, 2012
photo gallery

Indiana Supreme Court

Engelica E. Castillo v. State of Indiana

Sentence reduced from life in prison for Jada Justice killer

By Ruth Ann Krause -

July 31, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court has overturned the life sentence for Engelica Castillo, who was convicted of murder, neglect of a dependent and battery in the beating death of 2-year-old Jada Justice.

The state’s highest court found that the life-without-parole sentence imposed in 2010 for Castillo was inappropriate given her role in the crime and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during closing arguments.

The court ordered a 65-year sentence for Castillo, 21, who will be returned to Lake County from Rockville Correctional Facility so that Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. can impose the revised sentence, which is the maximum for murder.

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court agreed with both of the arguments I presented,” said Marce Gonzalez Jr., Castillo’s court-appointed appellate attorney. Gonzalez said the court issued a “very well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion in a difficult case.”

In his oral argument before the Supreme Court, Gonzalez said he argued it was difficult to justify a life sentence for his client “when the more culpable co-defendant would likely be serving 10 to 15 years.”

Co-defendant Timothy Tkachik, 27, pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent and battery in June 2010 and testified against Castillo in exchange for a maximum sentence of 50 years. Inmates receive day-for-day credit for good behavior while incarcerated.

The court found that the facts of the case didn’t support Castillo’s conviction for murder as a principal player but only as an accomplice in light of evidence that she slapped, poked, yanked the child by the arms and hair and spanked her. To be convicted of murder as the principal, the jury must find that the defendant knowingly or intentionally killed another person.

The court also found objectionable the prosecutor’s misstating the law in closing argument by telling jurors not to compare aggravating and mitigating factors. Indiana law requires jurors to make such a comparison.

That error, coupled with the prosecutor’s argument focusing on Castillo’s unsavory character, “not only placed the defendant in a position of grave peril to which she should not have been subjected but also presented an undeniable and substantial potential for an erroneous jury sentencing recommendation,” the court found.

Castillo was 18 and living with Tkachik, her then-boyfriend, in Hobart when Jada’s mother, Melissa Swiontek, brought the Portage toddler for a two-week stay in June 2009. Prosecutors presented evidence that Castillo became angry and spanked Jada after finding her with powdered drink mix and strawberries from the refrigerator.

The following day, on June 13, 2009, Jada locked herself in the bedroom, where she’d made a mess with syrup and powdered drink mix. Tkachik testified that Castillo spanked, slapped and grabbed Jada by the hair after she continued to misbehave.

About 90 minutes into the confrontation, Castillo told Tkachik that Jada had hit her head on a table when Castillo slapped her. Jada had a small cut above her right eye that bled slightly. Tkachik testified that Jada had red marks on her face and bruises on her buttocks after Castillo had beaten the child with a belt.

Tkachik testified he became frustrated with the ongoing conflict, ran into the bedroom and knuckled Jada “pretty hard” four to six times, hoping that would end the confrontation between Castillo and the girl. Still frustrated, Tkachik went to the gas station. When he returned, he testified he heard, “boom, boom, boom, boom” coming from the bedroom, but couldn’t see what was happening because the door was closed.

While Castillo and Tkachik were getting ready to leave to buy heroin in Chicago, Tkachik testified that Jada had a bruise on her face and seemed out of it. As they were driving, the child became unresponsive. They started CPR, returned home, covered the child’s body with a tarp, got into another vehicle and purchased drugs.

After they tried to burn the child’s body, the couple eventually encased it in cement and dumped it in a swamp in rural LaPorte County. Castillo concocted a story that the child had been abducted from a gas station, but eventually Tkachik led authorities to the body.

Swiontek, 30, Jada’s mother, was charged about one year ago with neglect of a dependent on allegations she knowingly or intentionally placed her daughter in a situation that endangered her life or health because she knew that Castillo and Tkachik were drug users and dealers. She has pleaded not guilty.


Woman gets life in prison for toddler murder

By Jessica D'Onofrio - ABC7 Chicago

Friday, September 10, 2010

(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- An Indiana baby sitter was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for the murder of the child in her care.

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.


Hobart woman found guilty in toddler's murder

Friday, August 13, 2010

(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- A jury has found a 20-year-old Hobart, Ind., woman guilty in the murder of a 2-year-old she was baby-sitting last year.

Engelica Castillo was convicted of murder, two counts of neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing in connection with the death of Jada Justice, a Lake County prosecutor announced Thursday. Castillo was convicted after a Lake Superior Court jury deliberated about two hours.

On Friday, the jury will hear arguments as to whether Castillo should be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Castillo was babysitting the toddler when prosecutors say she beat the child then dumped her body in a swamp

Castillo's then-boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik, was also watching the child. He pleaded guilty to a neglect charge in June and testified against Castillo. Tkachik faces a maximum term of 50 years in prison when he is sentenced September 10.


Ex-boyfriend testifies in toddler murder trial

By Leah Hope -

Friday, August 06, 2010

(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- A 25-year-old Hobart man testified Thursday that he and his then-girlfriend beat 2-year-old Jada Justice to death more than a year ago.

The ex-boyfriend took the stand in the trial of Engelica Castillo, accused of murdering her little cousin.

The trial began Wednesday in Crown Point, Ind. Jurors first heard from Jada's mother, who said she left the baby with Castillo for two weeks and was suspicious of Castillo's boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik.

Last summer, police, relatives and residents searched for a missing 2-year-old girl for days. Jada was reported missing by Castillo. After the girl's body was found, Castillo and her boyfriend were charged with the murder. Tkachik entered into a plea bargain in which he agreed to testify against his girlfriend.

On Thursday, Tkachik described how he and Castillo used heroin, beat the child and when they discovered the 2-year-old was dead, they plotted ways to dispose of the body, which included two trips to the store to get supplies, including a container, cement and rope. He testified that he held the child's stiff, dead body as Castillo mixed cement in a round container.

Tkachik said the couple did drugs throughout the ordeal and when the cement hardened around the girl, they dumped the container in a swamp, first trying to remove their fingerprints. Then he testified Castillo came up with the idea to report a false abduction from a gas station.

Under cross-examination, Tkachik testified that he agreed to a plea bargain to get a lesser sentence.

The state is planning on several more witnesses including FBI and local police officers who collected evidence and found Jada's body. The prosecution expects to rest at the beginning of next week.

The defense say they will call several witnesses. At this point, Castillo has not decided whether or not to testify in her own defense.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.



Suspects held without bond in toddler's murder

Saturday, June 27, 2009

(CROWN POINT, Ind.) (WLS) -- The death of a 2-year-old northwest Indiana girl who had been missing for a week has been ruled a homicide. The child's 18-year-old babysitter and her boyfriend are charged with murder.

The suspects were being held without bond Saturday at the Lake County jail.

The body of Jada Justice was discovered Thursday in rural LaPorte County. The toddler's body was found exactly one week after Jada's babysitter told police she had been taken from her car at a gas station in Hobart.

The toddler's cousin and babysitter, Engelica Castillo, and her boyfriend, Tim Tkachik, are facing charges of murder, neglect, battery and falsing informing in Justice's death.

The details offered thus far are disturbing to say the least. According to a statement Tkachik reportedly gave to authorities, he said Castillo killed little Jada and the two of them worked on a plan to dispose of her body, first lighting it on fire and then burying it in a barrel filled with concrete.

It was the news family members prayed never to hear. But Friday afternoon they could no longer hold out hope Jada was still alive.

"We showed them a photograph of the girl during the autopsy as best we could. It was a very difficult thing of course to do. That spares them what I would describe as the hell having to look at the body," said coroner John Sullivan.

Shortly afterward, the authorities filed charges against the two people they had in custody since Thursday, Castillo and Tkachik.

During questioning, Castillo allegedly stuck to her original story that Jada disappeared from her car when she went to a Gary gas station. Her boyfriend, however, offered a different version of events and his information is what led authorities to her body Thursday in west LaPorte County.

Tkachik described how Castillo and he had several lines of heroin before going to bed the night before Jada's death. The next morning he said he found Engelica spanking Jada and pulling her hair. Later that evening he realized Jada was not breathing. Engelica began screaming and crying. He says they then placed Jada's body in garbage bags. They tried to light her body on fire but there was an explosion that burned him in the face and arms. They then put her body in a tub and filled it with concrete and later came up with the story about Jada being abducted.

Castillo's attorney says it's not true.

"A plea of not guilty will be entered at the first opportunity, and we believe that once all of the evidence is presented to a fair and impartial jury she will be cleared of responsibility for her cousin's death," said T. Edward Page, Angelica's attorney.

Both suspects are being held in Crown Point. The two are scheduled to make their initial court appearance Monday.



Body found believed to be missing Gary toddler

By John Garcia -

Friday, June 26, 2009

June 25, 2009 (OTIS, Ind.) (WLS) -- A body has been found in Indiana that may be the remains of 2-year-old Jada Justice. She disappeared last week.

Police were called to search an area of western LaPorte County Thursday morning based on information they had received in relation to the missing girl. A coroner was called to the scene early Thursday afternoon, after police found a body in the fields there.

Police will only say at this point that it appears that the body is the remains of 2-year-old Jada Justice. The little girl has been missing since a week and a half ago when her cousin told police she had disappeared.

Jada's cousin, Angelica Castillo, 18, of Hobart, was watching the girl at the time she disappeared. Castillo said she left Jada in a car while she went to buy some milk at a gas station in Gary. And when she came back Jada was gone.

"It is with deep sadness that I report this morning investigators discovered what are believed to be the remains of Jada Justice in rural LaPorte County east of Highway 421," said Chief Rod Gonzalez, Hobart Police Dept.

"You always have a hunch of what's going on. A mother knows, I'm a mother my own self, and when stories aren't adding up and stuff like that you just know something. And for it to happen like this, it's devastating right now," said Angie Balboa, family friend.

Police said they have two people in custody at this point. They have not charged them, however, so they are yet to release the names of those two people. They say if the investigation goes as anticipated, charges could be filed by Friday afternoon.



Search for missing tot enters second week

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(CHICAGO) (WLS) -- The search for a missing northwestern Indiana toddler has entered its second week.

Investigators say 2-year-old Jada Justice of Portage was apparently abducted from a car June 16. Her 18-year-old cousin, who was babysitting the girl, tells police she left her behind as she went into a convenience store in Gary.

The cousin was briefly held as a person of interest but was released.

The FBI says its received more than 100 tips in this case.



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