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Justices reduce caregiver’s sentence in child’s killing

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The Indiana Supreme Court reduced the sentence of a woman who, along with her boyfriend, was convicted in the events that led to the murder of the woman’s 2-year-old cousin while in her care.

The court ruled in a 4-1 opinion that Engelica Castillo’s sentence for murder should be reduced to 65 years in prison. Castillo challenged the appropriateness of her sentence and also raised the argument of prosecutorial misconduct.

Castillo and her then-boyfriend, Timothy J. Tkachik, were charged in June 2009 with murder, neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing after the body of Jada Justice, 2, was found in a swampy body of water near LaPorte.

About a year later, Tkachik pleaded guilty to a Class A felony neglect charge and agreed to testify against Castillo in exchange for a sentence of no more than 50 years in prison.

Both Tkachik and Castillo admitted beating Jada before a planned trip to Chicago to buy heroin, according to court records. On the way, the boyfriend found the baby leaning down in her car seat, not breathing. Efforts to revive the baby with CPR failed, and the baby was covered with a tarp as the two set off again toward Chicago.

Both said the baby was dead when they returned later that night.

The justices said that to be convicted of murder as a principal, a defendant must knowingly or intentionally kill another. “These facts do not support a conviction of the defendant for murder as a principal but only as an accomplice,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote, noting that Tkachik might have been as likely to have been responsible for the fatal injuries.

“Notwithstanding the defendant's terrible treatment of the child, none of her actions were causally linked to either cause of death offered to explain the victim’s death at trial,” Dickson wrote in an opinion in which Justice Frank Sullivan concurred. Justice Robert Rucker concurred in the result, and Justice Steven David concurred in a separate opinion.

David said he believed evidence was sufficient to prove to a jury that Castillo knowingly killed the victim, but he didn’t object to revising the sentence due to Castillo’s difficult upbringing, Tkachi’s involvement, and terms of his plea agreement and prosecutorial misconduct.

The justices found the prosecutor “actually told the jury not to compare the mitigating and aggravating factors. … Telling the jury not to balance the aggravators and the mitigators touched on the central task of the jury in deciding whether to impose life without parole.” Dickson wrote.

Prosecutorial misconduct occurred, the justices concluded, but it did not result in an adjustment of sentence because the sentence was adjusted based on the appropriateness argument.  

Justice Mark Massa dissented. He held that there was evidence for a jury to conclude that Castillo was a principal actor, and that the prosecutorial misconduct did not constitute fundamental error.

“Even taking the majority’s view of culpability, I still believe a sentence of life without parole is not inappropriate on these facts,” Massa wrote.

 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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