Opening statements in third 'Baby Lolllipops' murder trial
For the third time, a jury heard about Baby Lollipops’ short and tragic life — and the details remain just as ghastly now as they were in 1990, when his body was discovered in the bushes of a Miami Beach home.
The skeletal, malnourished 3-year-old weighed just 18 pounds. His soiled diaper was duct-taped onto his filthy body. His cheek bore a burn mark, likely from a cigarette.
Two teeth were knocked out, taking out a portion of his jaw. Blow after blow, inflicted month after month, eventually left his tiny body battered. He was unable to walk, his skull was fractured, his brain stem severed.
“His left arm was so badly injured that the muscle from the elbow to the shoulder had fused into the bone making it impossible for this young child to extend his arm,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Christine Hernandez told jurors on Monday.
Lazaro Figueroa died an unimaginably horrible death. And to blame, prosecutors allege, was his own mother, Ana Maria Cardona, who beat and abused her youngest child over months.
“This young baby was the subject of her hatred, this baby was the target of her rage,” Hernandez told jurors.
The start of the trial Monday marks the third time Cardona has faced a jury for the November 1990 murder of little Lazaro, whose corpse was discovered dumped outside a home in Miami Beach.
As detectives hunted for his killer and identity in a case that captivated South Florida, they dubbed him “Baby Lollipops” for the design on his shirt. Homicide detectives soon arrested Cardona, a cocaine addict who had lived in a Miami efficiency with her two other children and lover, Olivia Gonzalez.
Cardona’s defense team on Monday shifted the blame.
“We’re going to bring you testimony that while Olivia Gonzalez was serving time in prison, she bragged that she was the one who hit the child over the head with a baseball bat and killed him,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Manuel Alvarez said.
Jurors will not hear that twice before, Cardona was sent to Death Row after convictions for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
Efforts by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to convict Cardona have been snake-bitten since the beginning.
Gonzalez was the key witness at the 1992 trial, testifying that her lover bound and tortured the boy for months before using the bat to fatally beat the boy. Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for her role in the case and served nearly half of a 40-year prison sentence, was freed in 2008.
Cardona was sentenced to death, becoming the first woman in Florida to be sent to Death Row for the murder of her own child. The Florida Supreme Court, however, overturned the conviction a decade later because prosecutors failed to disclose to the defense certain statements made by Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was not called to testify at the 2010 retrial.
Instead, prosecutors relied on witnesses who described Cardona's erratic lifestyle and abusive behavior toward Lazaro, plus excruciating medical examiner testimony and photos that showed months of physical abuse. Also key: Cardona’s statement to police, in which she admitted to dumping the boy's body in Miami Beach after, she said, he fell and hit his head on a bed.
At that second trial, defense lawyers argued that Cardona was coerced into the confession — and shifted the blame to a mentally disabled teenage babysitter who confessed, then recanted, to the killing. A jury again convicted Cardona.
A judge sent her to Death Row after jurors recommended, by a vote of 7-5, that she should be executed for her crime.
Cardona’s second conviction sentence was overturned in January 2016 after justices ruled that while there was plenty of evidence to convict Cardona, a prosecutor went overboard during her closing argument by repeatedly calling for “justice for Lazaro” — arguments that “improperly inflamed the minds and passions of the jurors.”
In the third trial, the State Attorney’s Office won’t be seeking the death penalty, and is presenting a similar, circumstantial case to the last proceedings.
Gonzalez likely won’t testify in the third trial. Lawyers agreed that she is “unavailable” to testify — and either way, she’s a risky witness for both sides.
But questions about her role in Lazaro’s death will loom large. Defense lawyer Alvarez, while acknowledging Cardona was a “terrible mother,” pinned the blame solely on Gonzalez.
He said Gonzalez was a “very dominant woman” who cowed Cardona while herself abusing the little boy, especially in those last couple months of his life. “There will not be any single witness in this case that will come in here and get up on the stand and say that Ana Cardona inflicted any of these serious injuries,” Alvarez said.
The trial continues Tuesday in front of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O.