NEW YORK - A New York mother has been accused of poisoning her daughter - by feeding her M&Ms.
The M&Ms contained traces of peanuts which the disabled eight-year-old daughter was allegedly allergic to.
Veronica Cirella, 31, of Plainview, New York, pleaded not guilty to an upgraded charge of second-degree murder in the child's death last week.
She was ordered to be held without bail in the July 23 death of her daughter, Julie, who was found only hours before she was set to be a flower girl in a cousin's wedding.
Cirella had previously been charged with manslaughter.
Attorney William Keahon implored the Nassau County judge to release his client on bail, arguing that an autopsy has 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.
"I've never seen an indictment for murder, intentional murder, where the medical examiner cannot even give a causation of death, nor can he even say it's a homicide.
"It's bizarre," Mr Keahon said outside the Long Island courthouse.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice released a statement saying the grand jury heard from Cirella and several witnesses before returning the indictment on the second-degree murder charge.
"Every child's death arouses strong emotions, but prosecutors must evaluate the evidence objectively and regardless of how difficult the defendant perceived her circumstances to be, taking her daughter's life was unjustified," said Ms Rice.
After Cirella's arrest last summer, Assistant District Attorney Zeena Abdi said that Julie, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant and was confined to a wheelchair, had suffered an allergic reaction to something she was fed.
"There was a certain protocol that should have been followed as far as giving care for the allergy that she did not take," the prosecutor said at the time.
After discovering Julie had died, Cirella told police that she attempted suicide by taking both injections of insulin and drinking the medication, as well as taking an unknown quantity of painkillers.
She also told police she attempted to strangle herself with an electrical cord.
Cirella and her daughter were found by Cirella's mother-in-law, Ms Dolores Cirella, who also lived in the Plainview home, when she checked on their preparations for the wedding later that afternoon.
A suicide note written by Cirella, found in court documents, indicates that the mother admitted feeding M&Ms to her daughter the night before she died as a treat for her participation in the wedding the following day.
Product containing peanuts
She said in the suicide note that when she realised the child had eaten a product containing peanuts, which she read on the candy's label, she administered liquid Benadryl to counter the effects.
She said the two eventually went to sleep and she found the child dead early the following morning.
Cirella also alludes in the suicide note to ongoing disputes with her now-estranged husband, Joseph,who had been arrested earlier the same week of the wedding on charges of violating an order of protection.
"Trust me, things only would have gotten worse," Cirella wrote in the note. "I could not risk loosing (sic) my daughter. I could not risk her being mistreated if he killed me. No one could take care of her the way I could."
Later in the note, she said: "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."
Mr Keahon contended that Cirella's statements were those of a distraught woman who believed she had accidentally killed her daughter by feeding her the M&Ms.
This article was first published in The New Paper.