The 2011 murder of a 31-year-old Volusia County woman whose body was never found took a major step this week after the victim's former boyfriend pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.
The search for Mandy Ciehanoski, of Holly Hill, continued Tuesday. The Volusia County Sheriff's Office has about 35 people and two cadaver dogs searching the woods in the extreme southern part of Flagler County, north of Ormond Beach.
Investigators launched a preliminary search of the area Monday afternoon but didn't find any signs of the body.
Ciehanoski was reported missing by her mother on Feb. 7, 2011. Her body was never found. Circumstances and evidence led to the arrest and prosecution of her boyfriend, Michael Annicchiarico, 36, for first-degree murder and tampering with evidence.
Annicchiarico on Monday entered a plea deal to the amended charge of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence. Ciehanoski's family was consulted and agreed to the plea and possible sentence.
The family's desire to locate Ciehanoski's body was most important, deputies said.
The agreement made by the State Attorney's Office is designed to do just that. In exchange for Annicchiarico's cooperation in locating the remains of Ciehanoski's body, Annicchiarico will receive a reduced sentence.
If the woman's body is located, Annicchiarico could serve 15-20 years in prison. If the body isn't found, he could serve 25 years up to a life sentence. The sentence will be determined by a judge. Neither side has requested a sentencing date yet.
Brandon Haught, a spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff's Office said Annicchiarico did not bury the body, "so those remains could be scattered anywhere in a very large area."
Searchers stopped for the day around 3:45 p.m. Tuesday and will be back out Wednesday morning.
"Weather permitting, we're going to keep on getting out here today, tomorrow, just keep on going and hopefully find the victim and bring this case to a resolution," Haught said.
By October 2011, Sheriff's Office investigators working with the State Attorney's Office had uncovered enough information to take the case to a grand jury. On Oct. 17, 2011, a grand jury indicted Annicchiarico on first-degree murder.
In addition to the lies he told to investigators, other evidence against Annicchiarico included blood-stained bed sheets found in his closet, a pair of discarded latex gloves and blood that was discovered in the trunk of the car that Annicchiarico had been driving at the time. His hands were also swollen around the time that Ciehanoski went missing. One of Annicchiarico's friends told investigators that he had admitted murdering Ciehanoski and another one of his friends said he had been threatening to kill her for years.