A 22-year-old man accused of raping and strangling his 15-year-old sister-in-law more than a year ago pleaded guilty Wednesday in Orleans County Court to second-degree murder as jury selection was about to begin in his trial.
Carlos Cardenas, 22, of East State Street, had faced four counts -- two counts of second-degree murder, first- and third-degree rape -- in the Jan. 15, 2011, killing of Katherine "Katy" Sanchez. He admitted guilt to the top second-degree murder count and will be sentenced Aug. 27.
Cardenas was represented by Mary Beth Feindt, a criminal defense attorney in Rochester assigned the case in April as a public defender.
Orleans County District Attorney Joseph V. Cardone said Wednesday that no sentencing promises were made. He plans to seek the maximum sentence of 25 years to life. He previously had offered a plea deal of 20 years to life, which was rejected by Cardenas.
"Even after a trial, you couldn't ask for a better result. He pled to the top count. He could stay in prison for the rest of his life," Cardone said.
Cardenas, a Mexican citizen who is in the United States illegally, was arrested Feb. 18, 2011, a month after Kathy was last seen. He admitted in an 11-page signed confession that he had sexual relations with the teen, then strangled her when she threatened to tell her sister about the incidents. He said he hid her body in a tote in the basement of his house, then moved it to an apple orchard in the Town of Ridgeway, where he led investigators.
That confession was debated in court, but the statements were deemed admissible by Judge James Punch in January.
Cardone told The Buffalo News there was no doubt about Cardenas' guilt.
"Back when he was arrested, he gave an 11-page confession. He went into great detail about what he had done, and given that and the strength of the rest of our case, I think he realized that even after a trial he was likely to get convicted," Cardone said.
Cardone said Cardenas had nothing to lose by going to trial, but spared the family the pain of a trial by taking the plea on Wednesday.
The Sanchez family, including the victim's sister and Cardenas' wife, Kimberly, and the teen's mother, Rosa Moldonato, and stepfather, Hilario Moldonato, were in the courtroom to hear the plea. Cardone said they were relieved that the case was finally over and Cardenas would be held accountable.
"He went before the judge and admitted to his wrongdoing," the DA said. "A trial wouldn't have produced any better a result and this takes a lot of pressure off [the family] by not having to relive all this."
As an illegal immigrant, Cardenas also faces deportation, but Cardone said that by law Cardenas must first serve his time in state prison.
"He will likely remain in state prison at least 25 years," the district attorney said. "I doubt they will let him out on parole in 25 years, but he will remain on file with an immigration detainer, subject to deportation proceedings when he completes his sentence.
"And I think that will be a very long time."