MIAMI — The third trial of a Florida woman accused of killing her young son in what became known as the “Baby Lollipops” case begins today.
Ana Maria Cardona, who has spent 25 years on death row, had her conviction overturned by the Florida Supreme Court last February, and she’s getting another retrial.
Cardona, 56, is accused of torturing and murdering her three-year-old son with her lesbian partner, Olivia Gonzalez.
The case has been controversial from the start. On November 2nd, 1990, two Florida Power & Light employees found the body of a young boy in the Miami Beach neighborhood of La Gorce, wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt emblazoned with lollipops.
Forensic evidence showed the boy had been starved, weighing a mere eighteen pounds when he died. He also had his skull fractured by a baseball bat and a cigarette burn on his left cheek, broken bones and teeth, and bedsores, the result of a year and a half of abuse.
The news shook Miami and brought back memories of the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh, who changed the way America deals with missing children.
A few weeks after his body was discovered, more details emerged. The boy’s name was Lázaro Figueroa, son of Ana María Cardona, who lived in St. Cloud with Olivia González and two other children. During interrogations, Gonzalez blamed Cardona for the boy’s death, admitting that they had both disposed of the body.
They were charged with aggravated child abuse and first-degree murder.
Yet in 2002, Cardona’s conviction was overturned and she was afforded a new trial, which resulted in a new death sentence in 2011. Last February, the Florida Supreme Court overturned her conviction again after evidence showed that the state had withheld evidence from the defense. González, apparently, had confessed to hitting Lázaro with the baseball bat.
The state also failed to disclose that Gloria Pi, a babysitter had also confessed to the murder, though she later recanted.
Cardona’s own history is fraught with abuse. Born in Cuba, she suffered from an early age at the hands of her mother and was sexually assaulted at the age of 10. By 16, she was having sex in exchange for drugs with strangers.
“My whole family died in Cuba,” she has said. “All I have left is God and my children.”
In 1980, she arrived in Miami at 19 during the Mariel Boatlift. For a while, she worked as a prostitute to maintain her two children until she met Fidel Figueroa, a drug trafficker.
Though she lived a life of privilege with a penthouse apartment, a housekeeper and a fleet of sports cars, the fantasy died with Fidel in 1987 when he was shot and killed. A month later, Lázaro was born. Though Fidel had left her $100,000, the money quickly disappeared in a haze of drugs and booze. Eventually, social services took her children.
Cardona came to met González at a nightclub in 1989. Despite being destitute, the two remained together and managed to regain custody of her kids. The family moved from motel to trailers, often neglecting the children’s health and hygiene.
At the trial, several witnesses attested to the abuse. Dr. Bruce Hyma, the medical examiner, reported finding a skull fracture that evolved into “an open festering wound,” which caused meningitis bacteria and irreversible brain damage. Lázaro, the doctor testified, was already dying before the fatal blow to the head.
Dr. Richard Souviron, who performed a dental exam, stated, “His body was totally beat up. He looked like he had come from Auschwitz.”
The trial ended with a death sentence for Cardona. Gonzalez, who served 17 years, was released in 2008.
“I did not kill my baby,” Cardona, who says she was too high to care for the child or even kill him, has stated. “I have faith in God that the truth will come out.”
Though she was offered a plea deal before her second trial, she refused it, saying, “I won’t sign a paper that says something I didn’t do. I am prepared to die defending my integrity. Let the truth come out. It’s not about saving my life. It’s about the truth.”
It now stands to be seen if Cardona will receive the death penalty again or if the woman who confessed to hitting young Lázaro with a baseball bat will be revealed to be the real killer.