Medical examiner: Natural causes did not kill 8-year-old

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Testimony continued Tuesday in the murder trial of a mother from Amherst.

Prosecutors say Candace Cartagena smothered her 8-year-old daughter Bianca in 2010. The mother was found in a shed behind her house.

Dr. Dianne Vertes, the Erie County Medical Examiner who performed an autopsy on Bianca, said in court Wednesday, “I think she did not die of natural causes.”

Vertes testified in State Supreme Court that a dilated cardiomyopathy, which the defense claims was a hidden cause of death, did not play a role in Bianca’s death.

Prosecutor Tom Finnerty showed Vertes a picture of Bianca, after her death. It showed a cut on her forehead. That, according to Vertes’ testimony, in addition to other marks on the girl’s body, showed a sign of struggle prior to Bianca’s death.

Vertes testified that according to her investigation, the cause of death was asphyxia. She said that asphyxiation was intentional. She ruled the death a homicide, after issuing an initial report that the manner of death was undetermined.

Based on photos of the scene and photos of Bianca’s body, Vertes testified it “suggests an object was placed over her face. Not necessarily a pillow, but consistent with a pillow.”

While Vertes testified, Candace Cartegena sat still at times. At other times, she took notes, played with her hair and scratched her forehead.

More witnesses are expected to be called Thursday. These will be the last witnesses called until June 30, when a pediatric forensic pathologist will testify for the defense. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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