BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The murder trial of a woman accused of killing her daughter three years ago in her Amherst home began Monday.
Bianca Cartagena was found dead inside her mother’s home in late November 2010. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office says this is a case fueled by “rage, desperation, jealousy and obsession.”
They say the case is simple, that Candace Cartagena killed her 8-year-old daughter just days before Bianca was to go to Disney World with her father, whom Candace was in the process of divorcing. But the defense says science will prove Bianca died of natural causes.
Assistant District Attorney Kristin St. Mary with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office opened the non-jury trial with a bold statement: “I am too selfish to take care of Bianca.” Candace allegedly made that comment to others one month before she allegedly killed her daughter.
Prosecutors said Bianca struggled before she died, fighting for air. Her death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation. Although prosecutors did not go into further detail about how Bianca was killed, they did say her death was anything but peaceful.
St. Mary said Candace was selfish, jealous and angry leading up to the death of her daughter.
St. Mary said, “I’m sure there will be many potential motives that develop through the trial, jealousy, rage, obsession, anger you name it, we will never know for sure but all that matters is whatever it was, it was good enough for the defendant, it was good enough for her to extinguish the life out of her little girl.”
Defense Attorney Joseph Terranova said, “Unfortunately she died under circumstances, which to the prosecution and probably anybody, appear to be a bit odd. But that’s not the intent that’s required in this indictment to find my client guilty of murder in the second degree.”
Terranova is making the case that Bianca died on natural causes while staying with her mother, claiming the child had a heart condition that had not been detected.
“Dr. Arden looked at photographs and found that [Bianca's heart] was misshapen, malformed, distorted, non-functioning,” Terranova said.
Prosecutors say the house was dark, locked up, all the bedroom doors closed, while Candace was outside in a shed, claiming to be drugged up as she tried to kill herself. They believe it was a fake suicide attempt in a calculated effort to throw off investigators and family members searching for answers.
In court, we learned there are text messages, emails, phone call recordings and many witnesses who will testify for and against Candace, in a case that has taken three-and-a-half years to prosecute.
Candace’s mother was first to take the stand Monday. Kathleen Sweeney read parts of a letter from her daughter. In one letter, Candace questioned whether she might be arrested and charged in her daughter’s death.
It was also written in a letter that, “just the possibility that I did something to her and not knowing terrifies me.”
Bianca’s grandmother broke down in tears several times while on the stand. Sweeney, during cross examination by Terranova, cried out from the stand that she would never accept the contention that Bianca died of natural causes.
She has always been suspicious of Candace, telling News 4 in November 2011, “You had a responsibility for that little girl. And now you have a responsibility for being accountable for what happened to her. I left her in your care and now she’s dead.”
Sweeney had dropped Bianca off for a visit with Candace. Bianca had been living with Sweeney at that time.
Bianca’s father, Ruben, had been among those pressing hard for Candace’s arrest. In November 2011 he told News 4 ,”I’ve been saying all along that Candace is the killer, the murderer of my child.”
With no jury, Judge Thomas Franczyk will hear testimony and hand down a guilty or not guilty verdict.