Long Island mom sentenced in death of disabled daughter

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A Long Island woman who killed her 8-year-old disabled daughter on the day she was to be a flower girl was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison.

Veronica Cirella, 34, pleaded guilty in May to manslaughter in the July 2011 death of Julie Cirella. The girl, who had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair, died on the day she was to participate in a relative's wedding.

"The facts of this case are particularly heinous," Assistant Nassau County District Attorney Jessica Cepriano said in court. "The defendant has admitted to intentionally hurting her own child. ... She was immobile and completely defenseless and the one person, the one person in this world that should have protected her killed her."

Authorities initially said Julie died after being given M&Ms by her mother, who knew the child had a peanut allergy. An autopsy found the child died of asphyxiation, but no peanuts were found in her system.

Cirella declined to speak at her sentencing.

Defense attorney William Keahon said relatives described Cirella as a "great mother who adored Julie and never complained about the level of care required to raise a child with a disability."

He said Julie suffered from severe asthma and acid reflux and may have choked on regurgitated food, but he added the exact details of what happened will likely never be known.

"I don't think she even knows," he said of Cirella. He said the woman has a medical condition but declined to elaborate. "Based on medication she was taking, based upon treatment she was receiving, I don't think she knows."

A relative called police after finding the girl's body in her family's basement apartment in Plainview; her semi-conscious mother was nearby with a cord wrapped around her neck. Authorities found a note purportedly written by Cirella saying she wanted to "give her back to heaven."

Veronica Cirella later insisted in an interview with Newsday that she never intended to harm her daughter.

She whispered "bye" to relatives in the courtroom as she was led away in handcuffs.