Ana Maria Cardona killed her three-year-old son, Lazaro Figueroa in 1990 and dumped his body among the bushes at Miami Beach. Now, after 27 years, she has been found guilty of murder for the third time.
A Miami jury on 13 December convicted Cardona of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse of her son, who was known as Baby Lollipops for the T-shirt he was found wearing. She will now face life in prison — a punishment much milder than her two previous Death Row sentences.
The Florida Supreme Court had overturned the two rulings of capital punishment and the case was brought back to trial recently.
"I don't 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," Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O told Cardona at the sentencing. "There are wild beasts that show more empathy for their offspring than you showed Lazaro."
The body of baby Lazaro was discovered in an emaciated condition with severe bruising all over. During the trial, the medical examiner pointed out how he was beaten often, and starving. His body was covered in bumps, bruises and cigarette burns. The child's skull was fractured, and his left arm was permanently bent at a 90-degree angle.
"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," prosecutor Reid Rubin said in a closing argument. "It was only a matter of time before he wound up dead because of her."
The 56-year-old had other children as well, ones who she did not abuse. However, according to the prosecutors, she took out her anger on Lazaro because his drug dealer father had died and left her without money.
"She became angry and spiteful, and she took it out on an innocent young child who became her personal whipping boy. It escalated, more and more," the prosecutor said. "Lazaro died because his mother didn't love him."
The defence attorney, Stephen Yermish, said that while Cardona was a bad mother, she was not responsible for her son's death. The defendant herself made a statement reiterating that she was not guilty of murder. "I didn't kill my son! I didn't torture my son," she told the court in Spanish. "Maybe you don't believe me. You don't feel my pain. Nobody could love my child more than me!"
She claimed her former girlfriend Olivia Gonzalez Mendoza was to blame as the latter had given the child to an unknown "friend" who had him for the two or more months before his death.
Gonzalez had previously pleaded guilty and was the lead witness of Cardona's first trial in 1992. She is currently serving 16 years of a 40-year prison sentence.
Over the years, the Cardona has changed her story on numerous occasions, from claiming that she did not have her child at the time of his death to telling that he died after falling out of bed and hitting his head. She told the police that she hid the body because she did not want to lose custody of her other children.