Is this the world’s most evil mother?

She may have been a bad mother, but was she a killer?

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If he cried or moved, she would beat him

Back in Novem­ber 1990, a lit­tle boy’s body was found in some bushes on Mi­ami Beach.

Just 3 years old, he’d been se­verely bat­tered.

Author­i­ties strug­gled even to iden­tify him.

The boy was so ema­ci­ated that he looked skele­tal. His right eye was bruised. And he was wear­ing a soiled nappy and a T-shirt with lollipops on.

As po­lice des­per­ately tried to find his par­ents, he be­came known as Baby Lollipops.

A post-mortem re­vealed that the tragic tot had died from a frac­tured skull.

But it also showed that there was ev­i­dence of more sus­tained abuse and ne­glect.

The boy had a cig­a­rette burn on his left cheek. Bro­ken teeth and bones. His tiny body was cov­ered in bed­sores.

Beat­ings had torn away the tis­sue be­tween his lips and gums, mak­ing eat­ing, drinking and talk­ing painful.

His left arm was permanentl­y bent at a 90de­gree an­gle.

And he weighed just 18lb at the time of his death.

Lit­tle Baby Lollipops was mal­nour­ished, anaemic and de­hy­drated.

It was de­ter­mined he had been tor­tured for around a year and a half be­fore he passed away.

Hor­rific.

De­tec­tives

searched for his par­ents for weeks, knock­ing on doors, hold­ing press con­fer­ences. Even­tu­ally, they man­aged to iden­tify the lit­tle boy. Baby Lollipops’ real name was Lazaro Figueroa.

His fa­ther Fidel was a well-known drug dealer.

But he’d been fa­tally gunned down a month be­fore Lazaro was born.

The tod­dler’s mother was Ana Maria Car­dona, an im­mi­grant from Cuba.

Car­dona was ar­rested soon af­ter, along with her girl­friend Olivia Gon­za­lez.

The pair had fled to Orlando with Car­dona’s older chil­dren.

They’d even stopped at Walt Disney World on the way.

Both Car­dona, then 30, and Gon­za­lez were charged with ag­gra­vated child abuse and first-de­gree mur­der.

In court in 1992, Car­dona de­nied the charge.

Yet, as part of a plea deal, Gon­za­lez ad­mit­ted her role in the cru­elty, plead­ing guilty to sec­ond-de­gree mur­der. Be­came the pros­e­cu­tion’s star wit­ness dur­ing the trial. Gon­za­lez tes­ti­fied she and Car­dona moved around from place to place. Along with Car­dona’s kids, the cou­ple had moved from one apart­ment to the next, from mo­tel rooms to friends’ houses to trail­ers and then back again.

In each of these spots, Gon­za­lez said Lazaro was al­ways ei­ther locked in the bed­room, bath­room, closet, or strapped down to the bed. If he moved, dis­obeyed, or even cried, his mother would beat him and choke him.

He was barely ever fed, bathed or changed.

They used pack­ing tape to keep his nappy on for days at a time.

Gon­za­lez told the court how her for­mer girl­friend had given Lazaro co­caine and sprayed his small body with in­sec­ti­cide.

Found it amus­ing to watch him con­vulse.

Gon­za­lez said that on the day Lazaro died, Car­dona hit him over the head with a bat be­cause he was tak­ing too long tak­ing his nap­pies off.

She said she felt guilty for let­ting it hap­pen – but she was scared of Car­dona, who’d once stabbed her in the hand.

Yet Car­dona in turn blamed her girl­friend for Lazaro’s death.

Her de­fence team ar­gued it was Gon­za­lez who tor­tured and mur­dered Lazaro, and Car­dona had sim­ply been too strung out on drugs to stop it.

Gon­za­lez was jailed for 40 years for her part in the tragedy.

But in the end, Car­dona was found guilty of mur­der.

And on 1 April 1992, Ana Maria Car­dona be­came Florida’s first woman on Death Row for killing her child.

It seemed jus­tice had been served.

Yet, in 2002, af­ter years of ap­peals, Car­dona’s con­vic­tion was over­turned.

Turned out the pros­e­cu­tion had with­held ev­i­dence.

Not only had

Gon­za­lez told po­lice she’d hit Lazaro on the head with a base­ball bat and may have caused his death.

But also, a babysit­ter had con­fessed to Lazaro’s mur­der.

Po­lice had ini­tially deemed the con­fes­sion in­ad­mis­si­ble as it was in­con­sis­tent with the physical ev­i­dence.

Yet a re­trial was set for 2010. Once again Car­dona was con­victed, and sen­tenced to death in June 2011.

But six years later in 2017, Car­dona’s con­vic­tion was over­turned once more by the Florida Supreme Court.

They ruled prose­cu­tors had ‘re­peat­edly crossed the line’ in their clos­ing ar­gu­ments.

Car­dona was granted a third trial, a third chance to prove that she hadn’t killed her son.

By the time she took the stand again in De­cem­ber 2017, Car­dona, then 56, looked both gaunt and weary.

But she con­tin­ued to deny mur­der­ing Lazaro.

Swore un­der oath she never broke any of his bones.

Again, Car­dona placed the blame on her ex-girl­friend Olivia Gon­za­lez, in­sist­ing it was she who struck Lazaro with a base­ball bat.

Car­dona’s lawyer Steven Yer­mish ad­mit­ted that his client was a bad mother, but main­tained this didn’t make her a mur­derer.

‘I can only as­sume that you are an­gry at Ana Car­dona. And you have ev­ery right to be. Ana was a lousy mother. She failed as a mother.

‘But you can’t de­cide this case be­cause you [are] an­gry at Ana,’ he said. ‘The charge of ag­gra­vated child abuse may have been proven. The charge of mur­der has not.’

Yet the pros­e­cu­tion stuck to their guns.

Said it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore lit­tle Lazaro wound up dead be­cause of his mother.

Pros­e­cu­tion lawyer Reid Rubin said, ‘Af­ter suf­fer­ing years, months, days of con­tin­u­ous abuse by her, un­der her watch, Lazaro in­evitably with­ered and died.

‘And lay in the dirt un­til his lit­tle heart stopped beat­ing.’

The pros­e­cu­tion pro­vided the jury with a mo­tive, too.

Mr Rubin al­leged that, af­ter Lazaro’s fa­ther died, Car­dona lost the lav­ish life­style that she’d been used to.

‘She be­came an­gry and spite­ful, and she took it out on an in­no­cent young child who be­came her per­sonal whip­ping boy... Lazaro died be­cause his mother didn’t love him,’ he fin­ished. Car­dona had now faced trial three times. Had she con­vinced the jury of her innocence at last?

Had the real killer ac­tu­ally been her girl­friend – re­leased al­most a decade ear­lier af­ter serv­ing 17 years? Or was Car­dona sim­ply as brazen as she was evil? Cast­ing her­self as the vic­tim, when re­ally she’d tor­tured and mur­dered her own young son?

She swore she never broke her son’s bones

On 13 De­cem­ber 2017 Ana Maria Car­dona was found guilty of mur­der and ag­gra­vated child abuse once again.

But this time the pros­e­cu­tion didn’t seek the death penalty for her.

In­stead, Car­dona was jailed for life.

Circuit Judge Miguel M de la O said, ‘I do not think you will be meet­ing Lazaro in the afterlife.

‘Your ac­tions were mon­strous. My mind re­coils at the hellish ex­is­tence you put Lazaro through that last year of his life.

‘There are wild beasts that show more em­pa­thy for their off­spring than you showed Lazaro.’

De­fence at­tor­ney Steven Yer­mish ad­mit­ted Car­dona was a bad mother

TO EN­TER Turn to page 54 for de­tails or visit lifedeath­prizes.com/win

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