A judge has found Candace Cartagena guilty of killing her 8-year-old daughter Bianca in their East Amherst home in 2010.
Erie County Court Judge Thomas Franczyk handed down the second-degree murder verdict in a non-jury trial Monday afternoon.
Cartagena was staying in the home after her husband moved out and the daughter moved in with her grandparents. It took police and prosecutors more than three years to charge her from November 29, 2010, when the girl died.
Defense attorney Joseph Terranova put only one witness on the stand, a doctor who said the 8-year-old died from a rare heart disease. Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III said the defense witness was a "hired gun."
Sedita says his office brought in perhaps the finest expert in the world on pediatric heart conditions to say Bianca Cartagena was murdered by asphyxiation.
"The best, the most candid, the most honest forensic pathologist with the best reputation in this country. It's not cheap, by the way," Sedita said. "Her testimony was absolutely compelling. It not only completely eviscerated the defense but it showed to the court how the only cause and manner of death in this case could have been homicidal and nothing else."
Prosecutor Kristin St. Mary says Bianca died a tragic death.
"The manner in which this defendant chose to kill her daughter went on for a substantial period of time. Through Bianca's loss of conscientiousness, she had to continue asphyxiating her daughter, through Bianca becoming brain dead and then eventually causing her death. She had plenty of opportunities to stop. She had plenty of opportunities to reach out and potentially save her daughter's life and she chose not to do that," St. Mary said.
Sedita says it's too early to know what his office will ask for, but the law calls for a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Ruben Cartagena, the ex-husband of the murderer and father of the girl, says he wants his ex-wife given the harshest possible sentence.
Terranova says he thought it was a good case for an acquittal.
"She's pretty distraught because we felt that with three medical examiners saying three essentially different things, that that created reasonable doubt. Cause of death and manner of death are the foundation of this type of case. So we felt that we had a good reason of acquittal," Terranova told reporters following the verdict.
Terranova says there will be an appeal.