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Pathologist testifies Bianca Cartagena died from abnormal heart

A pathologist testifying as a defense expert said today that he doubts 8-year-old Bianca Cartagena died of asphyxia, a key component in the murder charge against her mother, Candice Cartagena.

Dr. Jonathan Arden of McLean, Va., said that after reviewing autopsy results, photographs, slides and other information, he believes Bianca died of natural causes.

“A sudden cardiac death that resulted from an abnormality of the heart,” he testified.

Arden was called to the stand by defense lawyer Joseph J. Terranova. Prosecutors will have a chance to cross-examine the pathologist, who worked as a medical examiner in various communities for some 20 years and now offers his opinions in legal matters as a paid consultant.

Arden said that, in reviewing autopsy materials, he found little, if any physical evidence to conclude that she was strangled or smothered to death. But he found that her heart was abnormally heavy and noted that the Erie County Medical Examiner found that all four chambers of the girls heart were enlarged. Further, Arden noted microscopic abnormalities of the heart muscle and attributed her death in 2010 to dilated cardiomyopathy.

Candace Cartagena is in a nonjury trial in front of County Court Judge Thomas P. Franczyk, who will decide her guilt or innocence.

Prosecutors assert that Candace Croff Cartagena intentionally asphyxiated her 8-year-old daughter nearly four years ago in her East Amherst home in a jealous rage after Bianca spent Thanksgiving with Cartagena’s estranged husband and his girlfriend, not her,