A Plainview woman charged with murdering her disabled 8-year-old child has denied the accusation unsealed Wednesday, saying "I would never ever hurt my daughter."
Veronica Cirella, 31, Wednesday pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge, which a grand jury handed up last week, and was held without bail after her arraignment before Nassau County Court Judge David Sullivan.
Her next court date is May 3. She had originally been charged with manslaughter, a lesser crime.
In an interview Monday, Cirella said she did not kill her daughter Julie, who was going to be the flower girl in her cousin's wedding on July 23, but was found dead in the family's home hours before the ceremony.
Cirella said she was so grief-stricken when she found her daughter dead that she swallowed a handful of pills and tried to strangle herself with an extension cord.
"Without her there was no reason to go on," Cirella said. "She was my purpose."
She left a suicide note that prosecutors say implies that she killed the girl, who had cerebral palsy. Cirella said prosecutors are misinterpreting her words.
"I know what was in my heart, and I would never ever hurt my daughter," she said Monday, wiping tears from her cheeks. "What people say doesn't bother me, because I know I took good care of her."
Prosecutors had initially said Cirella gave her daughter M & M's candy, even though her daughter was allergic to peanuts and the label said that the pieces may contain traces of the food. They said Cirella failed to take the necessary steps to save the girl when she had an allergic reaction to the food. Cirella was arrested on a manslaughter charge, but prosecutors released her from jail in September when they didn't indict her within the legal time limit.
Cirella's lawyer, William Keahon of Hauppauge, said in court Wednesday that the medical examiner found no evidence of peanuts in the girl's system, nor did they find Benadryl or a mark from an EpiPen -- an injector used to deliver epinephrine to counter the reaction. Prosecutors say Cirella told a detective that she administered both to her daughter before the girl's death. Cirella said she doesn't recall talking to a detective.
Keahon said in court that the medical examiner found that the girl died in one of three ways: from an asthma attack, from choking on her own vomit, or from suffocating.
A source close to the case said prosecutors now believe Cirella smothered her daughter. Prosecutors declined to comment after court Wednesday.
Cirella said she was the main caregiver for Julie. At the time of Julie's death, her father, Joseph, was in jail for violating an order of protection against Cirella, according to court papers.
The night before Julie's death, Cirella said she became depressed, and texted a friend to ask if she would go to hell if she killed herself. But she said the friend calmed her down.
She said when she found her daughter she tried to administer CPR, but soon realized it was too late. She said she ran to the bathroom cabinet and ingested a variety of pills, then sat down to write a note. Her next memory, she said, was waking up in the hospital.