On Wednesday, Florida mother Ana Maria Cardona was convicted for a third time of brutally abusing her 3-year-old son – beating the boy to death in a 1990 murder case that rocked the nation over 25 years ago.
Cardona was sentenced to life in prison and found guilty on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in what has come to be known as the "Baby Lollipops" murder case.
Judge Miguel de la O had harsh words for Cardona as he read her sentence aloud in court, noting that "there are wild beasts that show more empathy for their offspring than you showed Lazaro."
In response, Cardona delivered an emotional outburst that, through a translator, cast herself as the victim in the case, which was reopened this past July.
"I didn't kill my son! I didn't torture my son," she said in Spanish as she faced the judge. "Maybe you don't believe me. You don't feel my pain. Nobody could love my child more than me!"
On November 2nd, 1990, two Florida Power & Light employees stumbled upon a horrific site while working in the wealthy Miami Beach neighborhood of La Gorce: the emaciated, dead body of a young toddler wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt with lollipops on the front, hidden in the bushes between a house’s driveway and a garden wall.
Police at the time determined that the boy was three years old, and noted that he appeared to have died from a fractured skull caused by the blow of a baseball bat. In addition to the fatal wound, the young boy, later identified as Lazaro Figueroa, had also been starved and beaten, with a cigarette burn on his left cheek and broken bones, broken teeth and bedsores from being tied to a mattress for prolonged periods of time. Lazaro’s left arm was also broken, and his diaper was caked with his excrement and attached to his body with brown packing tape.
At her first trial in 1992, Cardona alleged that her partner at the time, Olivia Gonzalez, had been the one who tortured and eventually killed her son. Dozens of friends and acquaintances testified against Cardona, however, recounting how the young mother had treated the boy badly and often left him in the care of others for weeks or even months at a time. She was sentenced to the death penalty. Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to a 40-year prison sentence, of which she served 17.
Then, in 2002, Cardona's conviction was overturned and she was granted a new trial by the Florida Supreme Court; in 2010, she was again found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death in 2011. That second conviction was also overturned, leading to the third trial, in which prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutor Reid Rubin noted earlier this week that Cardona specifically singled out Lazaro of her four children because his father was a slain drug dealer whose death lead to Cardona’s losing everything – a lavish lifestyle, money, a place to live.
"She became angry and spiteful, and she took it out on an innocent young child who became her personal whipping boy," Reid said in a closing statement. "It escalated, more and more. Lazaro died because his mother didn't love him."
The jury deliberated less than four hours before convicting Cardona Wednesday.