MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A Long Island mother has pleaded not guilty to an upgraded charge of second-degree murder in the death of her disabled 8-year-old daughter last summer.
Veronica Cirella, 31, appeared in court in Mineola on Wednesday after being indicted by a grand jury. She had initially been charged with manslaughter.
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Julie Cirella, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was found dead near her wheelchair at her Plainview home on July 23, 2011, just hours before she was set to appear as the flower girl at a cousin’s wedding.
Police said after her daughter’s death Cirella attempted suicide by injecting insulin and taking Xanax and other prescription drugs. Authorities said she was found with a cord wrapped around her neck, next to a four-page suicide note.
In the note, found in court documents, Cirella wrote, “I had to give her a better life, which was to give her back to heaven. She does not deserve to be in pain whatsoever. I don’t mind going to hell because I took my life to give her a better life which is in heaven where she can be free.”
In the note, Cirella also alludes to ongoing disputes with her estranged husband by writing, “Trust me things only would have gotten worse. I could not risk loosing my daughter. I could not risk her being mistreated if he killed me. No one could take care of her the way I could.”
In a statement to police, Cirella admitted giving her daughter M&Ms, which contained trace amounts of peanuts, despite the fact that she had an allergy to the food.
Cirella wrote that she knew there was a “probability” that Julie would have a reaction to the candy but still gave her the sweets as a reward for her participation in the wedding.
According to the statement, Cirella said once her daughter began to have a reaction, she gave her liquid Benadryl and later shot her in the leg with an epi-pen.
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Cirella stated they both fell asleep and when she woke up around 6:30 a.m. she noticed he daughter was “cold and obviously dead.”
According to the statement, Cirella said she tried administering CPR “with negative results.”
“I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do,” Cirella wrote in the statement. “I became despondent and decided I would take my own life.”
Attorney William Keahon implored the judge to release his client on bail saying the medical examiner’s office did not determine a cause of death and that there was no evidence of peanuts found in Julie’s body.
Cirella’s sister-in-law calls the indictment a mistake.
“She was a loving mother, she was wonderful,” Joanne Cirella said.
Cirella is being held without bail.