The Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial Thursday in the infamous case of a Miami woman who was found guilty of killing her 3-year-old son and sentenced to death.
For the second time, the court vacated the conviction of Ana Maria Cardona, 54, citing improper comments made by a prosecutor in the closing arguments.
Cardona received the death penalty in 2011 after she was found guilty of torturing and killing her son, Lazaro "Baby Lollipops" Figueroa, in 1990 and discarding his body outside a Miami Beach mansion.
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Police dubbed the boy "Baby Lollipops" because he was wearing a T-shirt with a lollipop image when he was found.
During the trial's closing arguments, the prosecutor repeatedly called for "Justice for Lazaro."
Cardona's complaint spelled out nine errors, from prosecutorial misconduct to personal attacks on Cardona, as reasons to overturn her conviction.
The Supreme Court, in a 28-page decision, said the trial judge erred in allowing prosecutors to repeatedly use the phrase "justice for Lazaro" to the jury. Prosecutors were also wrong, the justices added, in describing the defense case as "diversionary" and calling Cardona herself a "drama expert" who belonged on Spanish-language telenovela program.
Cardona's lawyers objected 58 times but Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz overruled nearly all of them.
"As we have stated for decades, we expect and require prosecutors, as representatives of the state, to refrain from engaging in inflammatory and abusive arguments, to maintain their objectivity, and to behave in a professional manner," the justices wrote in a 6-1 opinion. "All of these arguments used by the prosecutor in this case were clearly improper."
Justice Ricky Polston dissented but did not issue an opinion.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said prosecutors will try Cardona on murder and other charges a third time in a case that his riveted South Florida for decades.
"While we are saddened by today’s Florida Supreme Court decision in the Ana Cardona murder case, we are prepared to retry this homicide," Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "The cruelty involved in young Lazaro Figueroa’s murder deserves our fundamental commitment."
It's the second time the Florida Supreme Court has vacated a conviction in the case. Cardona was originally tried in 1992 and found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. She was sentenced to death, but the court reversed the convictions.
According to testimony at both previous trials, Lazaro's badly beaten and scarred body was found by utility workers in Miami Beach on Nov. 2, 1990. Police did not immediately know the boy's identity and decided to call him "Baby Lollipops" as they distributed fliers door-to-door and held frequent news conferences.
Eventually, the investigation led Miami Beach detectives in December to Cardona, who had moved with her other two children and her companion to a motel in Osceola County. She initially claimed, police said, that the boy had fallen and hit his head on a tile floor while jumping on a bed. She also claimed her companion, Olivia Gonzalez, had left the boy in front of the Miami Beach home.