Is this the world’s most evil mother?
She may have been a bad mother, but was she a killer?
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.
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
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