(CBS/AP) MINEOLA, N.Y. - M&M's that contained traces of peanuts are at the center of the case against a Long Island woman who now finds herself charged with second-degree murder in the death of her disabled and allergic 8-year-old daughter.
Veronica Cirella, 31, of Plainview, N.Y., pleaded not guilty Wednesday and was ordered held without bail in the July 23, 2011 death of her daughter, Julie, who was found hours before she was set to be a flower girl in a cousin's wedding.
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," Rice said.
Cirella had previously been charged with manslaughter in the case.
Attorney William Keahon implored the Nassau County judge to release his client on bail, contending 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," Keahon told reporters outside the Mineola courthouse.
Assistant District Attorney Zeena Abdi said last summer 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, 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 special treat for her participation in the wedding the following day.
She says in the suicide note that when she realized 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.