An Amherst police officer testified Tuesday that Candace Croff Cartagena said nothing and showed no emotion when he told her that her 8-year-old daughter was dead.
“She didn’t cry, and she didn’t moan,” Detective Lt. Richard Walter said at Cartagena’s murder trial. “She had no outward physical response.”
“Did she ask any questions about what happened to her daughter?” Assistant District Attorney Thomas M. Finnerty asked the veteran detective.
“No,” Walter said.
“Did she ask about her mother?” the prosecutor asked, referring to Kathy Sweeney, who Cartagena earlier told police had picked up her daughter at her home the day before.
“No,” the detective said.
“Did she say one single word when you told her that her 8-year-old daughter was dead?” Finnerty asked.
“No,” Walter said.
The testimony came on the second day of Cartagena’s nonjury murder trial before Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.
Cartagena, 35, is accused of suffocating her daughter, Bianca, on Nov. 29, 2010 while Bianca, who was then living with Sweeney and her husband in North Tonawanda because the defendant could not take care of her, was visiting Cartagena at her home in East Amherst.
The girl’s body was found in Cartagena’s bed the evening of Nov. 30, 2010, after the Sweeneys became alarmed because their granddaughter had not returned from her visit with her mother.
Her grandfather, Bryan Sweeney, and Cartagena’s sister, Casie Croff, went to the house and found the body, then called police. Police later found Cartagena lying on the floor under blankets and carpet scraps in a shed behind the home.
Cartagena told police she had taken a lot of pills the day before, starting around 5 p.m., because of marital problems. She said that her mother had picked up Bianca around that time to take her to a gymnastics lesson.
Prosecutors contend she killed her daughter during that visit in a jealous rage after Bianca spent Thanksgiving with her estranged husband, Ruben Cartagena, and his girlfriend, who planned to take her to Disney World the following week.
They say she later texted her mother not to pick Bianca up because she was spending the night. She said she would take her daughter to school the next day.
The defense contends Bianca died of natural causes, because she had an enlarged heart. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as asphyxiation and the manner of death as homicide.
Walter, the Amherst detective lieutenant, said he talked to Cartagena about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 1 at Erie County Medical Center, where she had been taken after she was found in the shed.
Although other officers had interviewed her at the hospital, they had not told her that Bianca was dead.
Walter, who was the first officer to inform her of the death, testified that Cartagena was awake and conscious in a bed in the emergency room when he talked to her.
He said he was holding her hand when he told her that he had some bad news: “Bianca is dead.”
Defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova questioned Walter about Cartagena’s reaction.
“Your expectations of how she would react were not fulfilled?” Terranova asked.
“I had no expectations,” Walter said.
Terranova then asked Walter if he felt her reaction was a “suspicious sign” that she may have been involved in her daughter’s death. The detective said no.
Detective Edward Solak, who talked to Cartagena at the hospital the evening of Nov. 30, testified that she told him she tried to kill herself by taking pills for 24 hours because of her failed marriage.
He said she also mentioned financial troubles and a house foreclosure.
Solak said he asked her if she had any children, and she mentioned Bianca, who she said was with her mother. She said she last saw her daughter Nov. 29 when her mother picked her up at her home around 5 p.m., acccording to Solak.
Solak said Cartagena told him that she loves her daughter to death.
Detective Matthew Gould testified that he and two other officers went into the shed where another officer had found Cartagena following the discovery of Bianca’s body.
He said she was wearing a winter jacket and sneakers, her eyes were closed and she appeared to be unresponsive.
But when he shined a flashlight in her face, her eyes started twitching and she became somewhat responsive. He said he found a large bottle of ibuprofen and a bottle of ice tea near her body.
He said the bottle had some pills left in it, but he didn’t know how many pills she had taken. He said seven other bottles of pills were found in the house.
Earlier Tuesday, a paramedic and another Amherst police officer testified that Cartagena appeared to be faking unconsciousness when they saw her in the shed.
Donald Snyder, a paramedic with Twin City Ambulance, said her eyes were closed, but he noticed the eyes were twitching, adding that she appeared to be forcing her eyes closed. He said he called out to her, but she did not respond.
Snyder said he took her hands and held them over her head, then let them go. He said she let them fall behind her head. He said normally they would have fallen in her face if she had been truly unconscious.
He said this test showed she was not unconscious.
“She was faking,” he said.
Snyder put her in the ambulance. On the way to ECMC, he said she responded to his questions. When he asked her what had happened, he said she indicated she had taken a lot of pills the night before, including an anti-depressant and an anti-seizure medication. He said her medical condition appeared to be stable.
Officer Mark Doldan testified that when he asked Cartagena some questions in the ambulance, she pretended initially she was not able to respond, although he said she did respond later.
Doldan testified that when he asked her if anything had happened to her daughter, she told him that she wasn’t aware of anything, unless something happened to her after she took the pills. He said she told him she would never hurt Bianca.