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Nassau mom accused of killing disabled daughter offered plea deal

Veronica Cirella, who's accused of killing her eight-year-old

Veronica Cirella, who's accused of killing her eight-year-old disabled daughter, arrives at the Nassau County Courthouse for pretrial hearings on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Prosecutors have offered a Plainview mother who is charged with murdering her disabled 8-year-old daughter a plea deal that would include a 12-year prison sentence, an assistant district attorney said Wednesday.

Veronica Cirella, 34, faces up to 25 years to life behind bars if convicted by a jury of second-degree murder in the July 2011 death of her daughter, Julie, who had cerebral palsy.

Authorities said Julie was found dead in her family's basement apartment on July 23, 2011, with her semiconscious mother lying nearby with a cord around her neck. The child had been preparing to serve that day as a flower girl in a cousin's wedding.

The manslaughter plea offer came out on a day when Nassau County Judge Philip Grella heard testimony at a court hearing held before he'll decide if some of the evidence can be used in a trial. Prosecutor Jessica Cepriano said the offer would expire once Grella gave his decision.

Police first arrested Cirella on a manslaughter charge. Authorities alleged then she tried to kill herself after failing to take the right steps to save Julie after feeding her M & M's candy -- while knowing it could inflame Julie's peanut allergy. In 2012, a grand jury indicted Cirella for murder and she pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said they found a note at the scene in which Cirella used "language that asserts an intention to kill." But she has claimed prosecutors misinterpreted her note, saying she was so grief-stricken after finding Julie dead she took pills and tried to strangle herself. She said in an April 2012 Newsday interview she'd "never ever" hurt Julie.

Cirella's lawyer, William Keahon, said Wednesday the medical examiner found no peanut residue in Julie's body and determined she died from an asthma attack, from choking on regurgitated food or by smothering. The lawyer said Julie had severe asthma and acid reflux, and the medical examiner also found no internal or external signs she'd been smothered.

Keahon declined to comment on the plea offer.

But prosecutors contend Cirella killed Julie by asphyxiating her, Nassau district attorney's office spokesman Paul Leonard said Wednesday.

Retired Det. William Brosnan testified Cirella told him from a hospital bed she gave Julie an M & M's candy despite the child's peanut allergy and while knowing it could have peanut traces. He said Cirella waived her Miranda rights and repeated her account, while changing it to say she had injected Julie with an epinephrine pen -- but didn't also give her Benadryl. He also testified Cirella said Julie woke up during the night and the mother turned her over at the child's request before finding her dead in the morning when she awakened to change her diaper.

Ambulance medical technician Evan Schatzberg testified Julie was dead at least two hours and had no outward trauma signs when he answered a call for help.Julie's father, Joseph Cirella, declined to comment Wednesday. But Keahon said the father and other paternal relatives support the mother, "don't believe she did anything wrong" and "want her out of jail immediately."

The hearing continues next week.


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