July 16, 2018 / 9:58 PM / 3 months ago

Pianist's wife not guilty by insanity in killing of daughters in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The estranged wife of a prominent Ukrainian-born concert pianist was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2016 slayings of the couple’s two young daughters in their Texas home, and the judge hearing the case ordered her committed to a state mental hospital.

FILE PHOTO: Sofya Tsygankova, 31, charged with two counts of capital murder in the deaths of daughters, Nika, 5, and Michela, 1, is shown in this Tarrant County Sheriff's Office photo released on March 22, 2016. Tarrant County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

The verdict, accepted by prosecutors and defense lawyers, capped a 3-1/2-hour bench trial in which the two sides presented their testimony in written form to Judge Ruben Gonzalez, said Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.

Sofya Tsygankova, 34, the estranged wife of pianist Vadym Kholodenko, was charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty, for the March 2016 deaths of the couple’s daughters, Nika, 5, and Michela, 1.

Police said she smothered the children with pillows before attempting suicide inside their suburban Fort Worth home. After the incident, Tsygankova was taken to an area hospital for treatment of self-inflicted knife wounds, according to a police report.

Under Texas law, a person who does not understand their conduct is wrong because of their severe mental disease cannot be convicted, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said.

“In this case, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is correct under the facts, and it is what justice demands,” Wilson said in a statement.

Kholodenko discovered the killings when he went to pick up his children at his wife’s home, police records said. The pianist found Tsygankova inside a bedroom closet, wearing a blood-soaked nightgown with cuts to her wrists and a puncture wound on her chest, according to the records.

Kholodenko and Tsygankova married in 2010 but filed for divorce about five years later, according to court records.

In 2013, Kholodenko won the gold medal in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He has been an artist in residence with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

In November 2016, Tsygankova was declared unfit to stand trial and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.

Defense psychiatric experts found the defendant suffered from major depressive disorder, bouts of anxiety and later had auditory and visual hallucinations, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported from the court.

Her committal to a state hospital is indefinite, Jordan said, adding she will undergo periodic mental health evaluations to see how long she will stay.

“It could be the rest of her life, it could be 10 years,” Jordan said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler

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