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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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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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