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An Albany-area pathologist and medical examiner has determined that 8-year-old Bianca Cartagena was the victim of a homicide last year in her family's East Amherst home, authorities said.

But with the Nov. 30 one-year anniversary of the child's death approaching, there have been no arrests, and the second opinion by Dr. Michael Sikirica, Rensselaer County's chief medical examiner, has not altered the opinion of the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office, which performed the original autopsy in the case.

"I am in consultation on the case, but that is all I can say," Sikirica told The Buffalo News on Tuesday.

His findings have been forwarded to Dianne R. Vertes, Erie County's chief medical examiner. Vertes was unavailable to comment Tuesday.

The Erie County autopsy ruled Bianca, who would have turned 9 Monday, died from asphyxiation, but how it occurred remains undetermined. Relatives of the child hired Sikirica because they wanted an outside opinion, according to sources familiar with the case.

When Amherst Police Capt. Enzio G. Villalta, chief of detectives, was asked to comment on Sikirica's findings, he declined, except to say detectives continue to pursue leads in the case.

"We're not going to comment on that," Villalta said. "It's still an active and ongoing investigation."

Several months ago, Ruben Cartagena, Bianca's father, accused his estranged wife, Candace Croff Cartagena, of killing their daughter by smothering her. John R. Nuchereno, the attorney for Croff Cartagena, on Tuesday continued to maintain that his client, who now lives in Rochester, had nothing to do with the death and grieves the passing of her daughter.

On the night of Nov. 30, Amherst police were summoned to the Croff Cartagena home by Bianca's maternal relatives from North Tonawanda, who were concerned that the child had not been returned to them from a visit with the mother.

At about 8:45 p.m., officers found Bianca dead in her mother's bed on the second floor of the Greengage Circle home. Croff Cartagena was located in a backyard shed in a semiconscious state with apparently self-inflicted wounds.

Autopsy results determined the girl had been dead at least 12 hours before she was found, and Bianca's father had said she was completely covered with blankets.

Nuchereno said Croff Cartagena has seen neither the original autopsy report nor the more recent findings of Sikirica.

"I have no reaction without seeing the report," Nuchereno said.

In addition to his duties in Rensselaer County, Sikirica performs autopsies for numerous other counties throughout the state.

Asked about Croff Cartagena's moving to Rochester several months ago, Nuchereno said, "There's a very legitimate reason for that. She's not there to flee from anything. The details involve her private life, and they are going to remain private."

Authorities, he added, are aware of where she lives.

After her daughter's death, Croff Cartagena was hospitalized for an extended period in Erie County Medical Center's psychiatric unit. She then moved to Buffalo, prior to moving to Rochester.

And while she remains in mourning, according to Nuchereno, others also continue to mourn Bianca's passing.

An "In Memoriam" tribute to Bianca appeared in Monday's Buffalo News, stating:

"Happy 9th Birthday, Bianca. We are so grateful for the 8 wonderful birthdays we could celebrate with you. You brought us such happiness and a new kind of love.

"Our hearts have an open wound that will never heal, but the love we have for you allows us to celebrate life. We will always treasure those wonderful memories and know you are with us in spirit. All our love, Grammie and Papa."

email: lmichel@buffnews.com