Benbrook mom accused of killing daughters found not guilty by reason of insanity
BENBROOK, Texas - A North Texas mother accused of suffocating her two young daughters was found not guilty by reason of insanity Monday afternoon.
Opening statements for Sofya Tsygankova's capital murder trial began Monday morning. It didn’t take a judge very long to hand down a verdict because both sides agreed she was insane at the time of the crime.
Defense attorney’s presented two expert witnesses who testified that Tsygankova suffered from severe depression with psychotic episodes. They said she wasn’t aware of what happened to her daughters. The defense also described a history of mental illness that started when Tsgankova was a teenager. Defense attorneys said she believed her children's souls had been taken over by the devil. The state’s expert agreed with their findings.
"You can only imagine what it's like to be her if you are depressed and psychotic think you've done a good thing when you're not depressed and psychotic you realize what you've done," said defense attorney Joetta Keene.
In 2016, Tsygankova’s 1 and 5-year-old daughters were found dead in separate beds in their Benbrook home, southwest of Fort Worth.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, she suffocated the girls with pillows. She also stabbed herself and potentially attempted a drug overdose.
Her estranged husband, world-renowned Ukranian pianist Vadym Kholodenko, discovered the crime scene and called 911. He had recently filed for divorce and had been staying at a hotel.
The affidavit said police found Tsygankova in the master bedroom rocking back and forth on the ground making indistinguishable noises. At one point she asked investigators: "Did I do anything bad to my kids?"
Two days later Tsygankova told police, “I think I committed suicide” and said she “didn’t want to live,” the affidavit states.
Investigators later discovered she had visited a mental health facility the night before the children died. She had been given a prescription for a drug used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
After her arrest, Tsygankova was treated at a state mental hospital and later declared competent to stand trial. Defense attorneys said she now understands what she did to her daughters.
The judge’s verdict means she’ll return to a state mental hospital until doctors are confident she can be released. She will remain under court supervision indefinitely.
"She may stay there til she dies if she never gets better," Keene said.
Prosecutors said after the verdict that what happened was a tragedy for all involved. They had previously agreed to waive the death penalty in the case.
"The law as given to us is that if someone by reason of mental disease or defect doesn't know their conduct is wrong at the time of the offense they cannot be prosecuted. If that's the law given by the legislature then what was done here today was justice," prosecutor Dale Smith said.
Kholodenko did not attend Monday's trial. Tsgankova's mom and sister arrived in North Texas on Sunday but declined to speak with media after the verdict.