A Long Island woman who knowingly fed M&Ms that contained traces of peanuts to her disabled and allergic 8-year-old daughter in 2011 has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, officials said.
Veronica Cirella, 34, of Plainview, pleaded guilty in May to first-degree manslaughter. In 2012, she had pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in the case.
"Julie Cirella's young life was cut tragically short by the one person who should have protected her, her mother," acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
Cirella, 34, declined to speak at her sentencing Friday, according to the Associated Press. Her attorney said exact details of what happened likely will never be known and that Cirella pleaded guilty to avoid the ordeal of a trial.
She whispered "bye" to relatives in the courtroom as she was led away in handcuffs.
On the day that 8-year-old Julie was supposed to be the flower girl at her uncle's wedding, a relative found her unconscious in her home. Cirella was nearby with a wire tied around her neck – she told police that she tried to kill herself with an electrical cord. The girl was declared dead at the scene by an emergency responder.
Julie suffered from cerebral palsy and was disabled. She was also allergic to peanuts. Cirella told police that she gave her daughter candy containing peanuts knowing that her daughter would have an allergic reaction. The mother also said that she gave her daughter Benadryl and injected her with an EpiPen, although neither of the substances were found in the child's system.
The medical examiner determined that Julie died of asphyxiation but could not determine what caused the asphyxiation. An autopsy found no peanuts in her system.
Cirella had left a suicide note in which she said that she intended to kill her daughter, the DA's office said. In it, she admitted to giving her daughter the peanut candy with the intention of causing her harm, according to officials.
"Trust me things only would have gotten worse," Cirella wrote in the note. "I could not risk losing my daughter. I could not risk her being mistreated if he killed me. No one could take care of her the way I could."
The note alludes to a dispute with her estranged husband, who had been arrested earlier the same week on charges of violating an order of protection.
Later in the note, she writes: "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."
The suicide note makes no mention of whether Cirella knowingly fed the child something she knew would be harmful.
Veronica Cirella later insisted in an interview with Newsday that she never intended to harm her daughter.
In 2012, Attorney William Keahon implored a Nassau County judge to release his client on bail, contending an autopsy had failed to determine a cause of death. But the judge cited Cirella's suicide attempt the day her daughter died and the fact that Cirella is now facing a potential life sentence as reasons to hold her in custody until her trial.