FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – The estranged wife of famed Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko was found not guilty by reason of insanity Monday for suffocating her two daughters at their Texas home.
State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez conducted a brief bench trial Monday morning, where he considered expert witness evidence from both the prosecution and defense that concluded Sofya Tsygankova, 34, of Benbrook, was criminally insane when she smothered 5-year-old Nika Kholodenko and 1-year-old Michaela Kholodenko on March 27, 2016. She was charged with two counts of capital murder of a person under 10 years of age.
Dressed in a gray prison jumpsuit, Tsygankova was silent as the verdict was read. She will be committed to a state mental health facility until doctors and the judge conclude she is no longer a danger to herself and others. Initially found unfit to stand trial in 2016, she received several months of treatment at a mental health facility and was found to be competent to stand trial last year.
Kholodenko won the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013 in Fort Worth and moved his young family to Texas soon after. He was not present during the trial, but prosecutors submitted his sworn testimony that Tsygankova had a mental breakdown when he met a girlfriend in 2015 and asked her for a divorce. Kholodenko said he was the one who found his daughters’ bodies and that he found Tsygankova distraught and covered in blood from stab wounds inside of a closet.
Tsygankova’s attorney, Joetta Keene in Arlington, cited expert reports that concluded she suffered from depression since she was 18 and later postpartum depression. She purportedly told her doctors that she had earlier aborted an attempt to kill her daughters through carbon monoxide poisoning, and that she was forced to kill them to protect them from the devil and prevent them from being injured and disabled later in life.
Prosecutors agreed with the defense that Tsygankova did not know what she was doing was wrong. Assistant District Attorney Dale Smith told Judge Gonzalez that all the expert testimony concluded she thought she was doing the right thing in killing her children.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said the judicial system bars the conviction of people insane at the time of the crime.
“Under our law, a person who does not understand that their conduct is wrong because of their severe mental disease cannot be convicted,” she said in a statement after the verdict. “In this case, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is correct under the facts, and it is what justice demands.”
Keene said two defense expert witnesses and one for the prosecution agreed her client fit the “definition under Texas law of insanity” in the case.
“Sometimes a case is so clear that you don’t have to fight about it. Sofya Tsygankova was one of those cases,” she said in an email message late Monday. “Justice was served in this case.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.