final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower
Tribunal No. 90-48092B Miguel M. de la O, Judge.
J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Andrew Stanton, Assistant
Public Defender, for appellant.
Moody, Attorney General, and Gabrielle Raemy Charest-Turken,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
LOGUE, SCALES and GORDO, JJ.
Maria Cardona appeals the final judgment of conviction and
sentence rendered following her third trial on December 13,
2017. Cardona was charged with and convicted of first-degree
murder and aggravated child abuse in the 1990 death of her
three-year-old son, Lazaro Figueroa ("L.F."). At
trial, the State proffered the testimony of the former Chief
Medical Examiner of the Miami-Dade County Medical
Examiner's Office, Dr. Bruce Hyma, who examined
L.F.'s body on the date it was found. Specifically, Dr.
Hyma testified that L.F.'s cause of death was child abuse
syndrome. The defense argues this testimony was inadmissible
because the "true cause of death" was blunt force
injury. The defense contends that Dr. Hyma's testimony
was inadmissible because it confused and misled the jurors
and forced them to reject the defense theory of the case. We
conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
permitting Dr. Hyma's cause of death testimony and
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
facts of this case are extensive and are set out in great
detail in opinions from the Florida Supreme Court. See
Cardona v. State, 185 So.3d 514, 517-19 (Fla. 2016);
Cardona v. State, 826 So.2d 968, 969-72 (Fla. 2002);
Cardona v. State, 641 So.2d 361, 361-63 (Fla. 1994).
This opinion contains only a summary of the facts relevant to
the issue on appeal.
November 2, 1990, L.F.'s body was discovered in the yard
of a home in Miami Beach. Dr. Bruce Hyma, the medical
examiner at that time, examined L.F.'s body and
documented his injuries.
the discovery of L.F.'s body, it took over a month to
identify him. Eventually, the authorities located Cardona who
had fled to Orlando with her then-girlfriend and two older
children. In the course of police interviews that day,
Cardona gave several iterations of what had happened to L.F.
One such version was that L.F.'s death had been an
accident resulting from a fall from his bed.
time of his death, three-year-old L.F. had been victim to
years of child abuse and had numerous injuries to show for
it. From early in L.F.'s life, Cardona often left him in
the care of others. In fact, sometimes Cardona would drop off
her son and not return for several months. Because of this
lack of continuity in L.F.'s care, Cardona's defense
claimed that the systemic injuries were not entirely her
responsibility. Further, Cardona alleged that L.F. was not in
her care in the weeks and months that preceded his death
because she was living in an efficiency where children were
not allowed. She contended that her girlfriend had taken L.F.
from her to live with a wealthy friend in Miami Beach and
that the girlfriend had prohibited her from seeing him again
prior to his death. Conversely, the State presented testimony
and evidence that L.F. had, in fact, been living in the
efficiency with Cardona, her other children, and her
to trial, Cardona's counsel sought to exclude the
testimony regarding child abuse syndrome or battered child
syndrome. Dr. Hyma's autopsy report stated that
the cause of death was "child abuse syndrome."
Cardona's defense posited that a blunt force injury to
the head was the true cause of L.F.'s death. The defense
argued because their case theory was based on an
identifiable, discrete, fatal injury, it was inappropriate
for the medical examiner to opine otherwise as it negated
trial court denied Cardona's motion in limine concluding
that the child abuse syndrome testimony was both relevant and
was not more prejudicial than probative. The trial court
concluded that the testimony was relevant to prove intent.
The trial court also determined that "the evidence of
abuse found during [L.F.'s] autopsy is not substantially
outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion, or
misleading the jury." The court then stated that it was
"open to ...