Candace Croff Cartagena told her family that she couldn’t remember what happened to her daughter the day before the 8-year-old was found dead in her mother’s bed in her East Amherst home.
Cartagena, who was found that same night apparently semiconscious in a backyard shed after taking a lot of pills in an attempt to kill herself, told her family she could not talk about what happened on Nov. 29, 2010 because she didn’t remember and because her attorney had advised her not to talk about it.
Cartagena’s sister, Casie Lamarca, testified today at Cartagena’s nonjury murder trial in Erie County Court about her refusal to answer her family’s questions about how Bianca died.
Lamarca read from an email Cartagena sent her on March 26, 2011, in which the defendant said she would like to tell her family what happened but couldn’t because of her memory lapse after she took all the pills she could find in her house and because of her attorney’s advice.
“I replay it everyday” in my mind, Cartagena said in the email, “but I don’t remember what happened.”
“I’ll never forgive myself for what happened,” she said, adding that she thinks of Bianca every day, sleeps with some of her things and visits her grave often.
“She was the most special girl in the world,” she said.
At that point, Lamarca paused in her reading of the email and cried.
The email was sent a few weeks after the autopsy was released listing the cause of the girl’s death as asphyxiation and the manner of death as undetermined.
In her email Cartagena said media reports about the autopsy had made her life difficult, noting that she barely leaves her house because of the looks and comments she receives when she goes out.
Lamarca couldn’t recall if she responded to the email, but she said she did agree to meet with Cartagena two months later at a restaurant – their first face-to-face meeting since Bianca’s death,
Lamarca said the defendant told her she was relieved to learn from the autopsy that no trauma or marks were found on her daughter.
Because of that, Cartagena told her sister that she could begin the grieving process because she knew she had done nothing to Bianca.
Lamarca testified that she bought a tape recorder and brought it to the meeting to record their conversation.
She said she brought the recorder for her own protection because she was meeting with a woman who faced the possibility of being accused of killing her daughter.
She said she didn’t tell her sister she was recording the conversation “because I felt I didn’t have to.” She said she later gave the recording to the Amherst Police Department.
Cartagena, 35, was indicted in May 2013, 2½ years after her daughter’s body was found.
She is accused of suffocating Bianca while Bianca was visiting her at her home on Greengage Circle. The child was then living with her maternal grandmother, Kathy Sweeney, and Sweeney’s husband in North Tonawanda because the defendant could not take care of her.
Bianca’s body was found in Cartagena’s bed the evening of Nov. 30, 2010, after the Sweeneys became alarmed because she had not returned from her visit with her mother. The family called police after Casie Lamarca and her stepfather, Bryan Sweeney, went to Cartagena’s home and found the body.
Police then found Cartagena on the floor in a shed behind the home. She told them she had taken a lot of pills in an attempt to kill herself because of marital and financial problems.
Prosecutors contend Cartagena killed her daughter during that visit in a jealous rage after Bianca spent Thanksgiving with Cartagena’s estranged husband, Ruben Cartagena, and his girlfriend, who planned to take her to Disney World the following week.