BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A mother who was convicted of killing her 8-year-old daughter was sentenced Tuesday to the maximum: 25 years to life in prison.
Bianca Cartagena was smothered to death and her family fought for three-and-a-half years to bring Candace Cartagena to justice. Erie County Court Judge Thomas Franczyk found her guilty last month of second degree murder in a non-jury trial.
At sentencing, the 35-year-old spoke for 11 minutes about her daughter, beginning with a defiant statement: “[I'm] not going to admit to a crime I did not commit.”
She went on to tell rambling memories of her daughter’s favorite cartoons and Halloween costumes. At times, Candace’s sobs sounded like laughter.
“She was Barney one year. She was Elmo. She was a punk rocker. And of course Hannah Montana,” Candace said. “I’m so proud of her.”
Her family members looked at their hands and the prosecutor did his best to avoid rolling his eyes as Candace claimed she never missed a school event. Candace’s own sister, Casie Croff, spoke out against her outside the courtroom, saying the family wrestled with what they would recommend for a sentence.
“Candace put her own wants and needs and fears before Bianca’s,” Croff said.
Before sentencing, Croff read a long statement from the family, saying, “[Candace] has never once accepted responsibility for what happened to Bianca.”
“Everyone in the defendant’s world is at fault. Except of course for her,” added Erie County District Attorney Thomas Finnerty. “We’ve never encountered – never – a more narcissistic defendant than the defendant, Candice Cartagena.”
Before being sentenced, Candace again reiterated that the judge got it wrong.
She said, “I love Bianca. And Bianca knows the truth. God knows the truth. And I know the truth. And I am at peace with that.”
While handing down his verdict last month, Judge Thomas Franczyk called Candace “self-absorbed,” and said she had taken out the collapse of her marriage on her daughter. The judge said Candace “dashed off a litany of lies” while attempting to mislead her own family and police, even in the hours after she killed Bianca.
The judge says those lies include the newest story of how Bianca died, which Candace told to the Buffalo News in a jailhouse interview, claiming after overdosing on pills in a suicide attempt, she accidentally rolled onto the sleeping child and smothered her.
That story infuriated her family and District Attorney Frank Sedita.
Croff said, “The lies have got to stop. The stories have got to stop. This has gone on for too long.”
Sedita said, “It’s self-serving bologna. She’s a pathological liar.”
Judge Franczyk showed no mercy, sentencing Candace to 25 years to life.
“I think that does speak to the selfishness of your personality,” he said. “If you were really serious about ending your life you would have done it without drama and fanfare. It just defies common sense.”
During the trial, the defense tried to prove Bianca died of a heart condition. However, prosecutors brought in a forensic pathologists who said Bianca died a painful and violent death by asphyxiation.
Prosecutor Kristin St. Mary said, “In fact 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.”
Ruben Cartagena, Bianca’s father, said, “[Candace is] a killer. She killed her own daughter, which means she can kill 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.
Candace’s defense attorney plans to appeal the verdict based on their claim Bianca had a heart condition.