ADVERTISEMENT

A day after the father of 8-year-old Bianca Cartagena accused his estranged wife of killing their daughter, the mother's lawyer fired back saying the accusation is false.

"My client is very much a grieving mother who never would have harmed her daughter," said John R. Nuchereno, the attorney representing Candace Croff Cartagena.

Authorities have voiced concerns that the former East Amherst resident has not cooperated with them in helping answer questions about her daughter's suspicious death in November.

Nuchereno explained Friday that she has been silent for good reason.

"I was brought into the case early and instructed my client not to speak with anybody, especially since the finger-pointing had already started without any evidence of wrongdoing," Nuchereno said.

Ruben Cartagena on Thursday obtained and released the autopsy report on his daughter's death, which determined that she died of asphyxiation, though how it occurred remains undetermined.

The father, upset that an arrest has not yet been made, said he believes that Croff Cartagena smothered Bianca, based on the autopsy findings and other circumstances.

Croff Cartagena, he said, sent text messages to relatives saying she was bringing Bianca back to the grandmother's home in North Tonawanda hours after the child had already died.

Police found the child dead in her mother's bed on the second floor of her Greengage Circle home in East Amherst at about 8:45 p.m. Nov. 30, after the North Tonawanda relatives who were caring for the child called 911 to request that Amherst police officers check on her condition.

Authorities, the father said, estimated Bianca passed away at least 12 hours before she was found. When police located the girl, she was completely covered with blankets, according to Ruben Cartagena.

Croff Cartagena was found in a backyard shed in a semiconscious state with apparently self-inflicted injuries, police have said. She was hospitalized for an extended period in Erie County Medical Center's psychiatric unit before being released and moved to Buffalo.

Amherst detectives and Christopher J. Belling, senior trial counsel for District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, are expected to discuss the case next week.

"We've already met with detectives on several occasions, and we plan to meet with them again," Sedita said.

Detectives will likely review the autopsy report with Belling.

Part of the autopsy included toxicology tests to determine if Bianca died from poison or illegal drugs in her system.

Acting Erie County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Dianne R. Vertes ruled there was nothing in Bianca's system that could have killed her.

Though a test for the date rape drug known as GHB came back positive, authorities on Friday said that the quantity was unknown and that they are certain that substance did not cause Bianca's death.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com