Judge says Cartagena “dashed off litany of lies”

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - It took 3 1/2 years to bring 35 year-old Candace Cartagena to justice.  Her own family wanted her to stand trial for the murder of her daughter, and there was great tension in the courthouse during the moments leading up to verdict in her non-jury trial.

“I find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree as charged”, said Erie County Judge Thomas Franczyk.

In finding Cartagena guilty of asphyxiating her 8 year-old daughter Bianca, the judge said the mother was “self-absorbed,” and had taken out the collapse of her marriage on her daughter. He said she had “dashed off a litany of lies,” attempting to mislead her own family and the police, even in the hours after she killed Bianca.

“She’s a killer,” exclaimed her ex-husband Ruben after the verdict was rendered.  “She killed her own daughter, which means she can anybody, so I would like to see her away for a long time so she doesn’t do this to anybody else.”

Ruben had been convinced Candace killed their daughter after their marriage unwound, and Bianca was spending more time with her father.  Ruben was to take Bianca to Disney World.  They had spent Thanksgiving together.

“She was the only one in the house and my daughter was dead.  It was kind of a ‘no-brainer’ that she had done it,” Ruben said.

Prosecutors, through the expert testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Kim Collins, were able to shoot down the defense’s claim that Bianca had suffered from a heart condition and died suddenly of natural causes. Dr. Collins had said Bianca’s heart was normal.  Paraphrasing Dr. Collins’ testimony on the likelihood of a vibrant, active child suddenly dying without showing previous symptoms, Prosecutor Thomas Finnerty said, “If that happened that would be the first time in the history of the world that a previously healthy 8 year-old girl died from dilated cardiomyopathy.”

Defense Attorney Joseph Terranova said the verdict will be appealed based on the heart issue. “When you’re defending someone,” he said, “you’re looking for scientific evidence which is persuasive, and that’s what we did, and I stand by that.”  Asked how Candace took the verdict, Terranova said, “She’s pretty distraught because we felt with three medical examiners saying three essentially three different things, that that created reasonable doubt.”

But prosecutors proved that Bianca had died a painful and prolonged violent death by asphyxiation.  They believe she may have been smothered with a pillow.  “In fact,” said Prosecutor Kristin St. Mary, “the manner in which this defendant chose to kill her daughter went on for a substantial period of time. Through Bianca’s loss of consciousness, she had to continue asphyxiating her daughter.”

Bianca’s father wants his daughter to be remembered not how she died, but how she lived her life.  She was “a fun-loving person who just loved life, loved doing everything, and probably, to this day, still loves her mother, even though she killed her.”

Sentencing is scheduled for August 26.

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