Story -- of a Trial She Couldn't Understand and a Life She Never Imagined
by Kathleen A. O'Shea
On November 26, 1998,
Ana Cardona, a Cuban immigrant from Miami, was thirty-eight years old.
This birthday, like her past six birthdays, was celebrated with three
women shes not allowed to speak to. Her address is DR X/8.
Translated, that means Death Row/ for Execution/ Cell 8. Ana
lives bajo la pena de muerte in a tiny cell on death row at Floridas
Broward County Correctional Center for women in Pembroke Pines.
Ana describes her daily life:
Everything scares me. I live in constant fear. Ive been harmed a
lot. The person who has no one to help her here is lost. I have so many
needs, even hunger, because I dont have money to buy things. They
have humiliated me, they have treated me as if I were an animal, theyve
used me and played with me, with my feelings and my pain. I am so hurt,
psychologically and physically... Day after day I cry tears of despair,
tears of pain, tears of torture. Only by suffering as I do can anyone
know what it really feels like to go through this.
Judy Buenoaño, another Latina and one of Anas past neighbors
on Floridas death row, wasnt around for this years birthday.
She was executed earlier this year. Perhaps nothing affects women on death
row at a deeper level than the execution of another woman. Ana recalled
Judy, may she rest in peace, will always be in my heart. I miss her
and each time I look at her cell, my heart falls apart. Her death has
affected me so much. She was like a mother to me. I feel her loss. Death
is no solution for anyone. The state is more criminal than those of us
who it calls criminals. Because the only difference is that theyre
authorized to kill or execute.
Anas story of immigration is not that unusual. She came to the United
States when she was 19 years old. She said she didnt really want
to leave Cuba or her mother because she was an only child and didnt
know anyone here. But her mother insisted she come, telling her she could
get a job and get settled and then she would join her someday. With this
in mind, Ana came, but her mother never did. To this day, neither Anas
mother nor her children know she is on death row.
By 1990, Ana had four children. When she was convicted of killing her
three-year-old son, Lázaro Figueroa, she was in an abusive relationship
with another woman and was addicted to cocaine. Lázaros body
was found in Miami Beach but was not identified until several weeks later.
He had been beaten and dumped in the bushes. Before he was identified
the local press started calling him baby lollipops because
of the shirt he was wearing when his body was found. The cause of his
death was listed as repeated blows to the head. Ana Cardona has always
denied abusing her child.
I didnt even know what they were saying at my trial. The interpreter
told me that what they were saying wasnt important and the
lawyers didnt speak Spanish. The judge never allowed evidence in
my favor to be presented. To top it off, the judge told me that if he
saw me crying, he would throw me out of the courtroom.
According to Ana, her lover, Olivia González, abused her and her
children, and Ana did not have the courage to stop her. She said she took
cocaine to escape the horror of the abuse that was happening in her life,
and she became addicted. Olivia testified for four hours against Ana in
exchange for a forty-year sentence for second-degree murder and child
Although Olivia admitted beating Lázaro and dumping his body in
Miami Beach, she placed the primary blame for the homicide on Ana. Of
Olivias testimony, Ana said:
Olivia had a private lawyer. Although she confessed that she did kill
my son Lázaro, her lawyer made a deal with mine that she would
testify against me, and thats what she wanted. Unfortunately, in
this country money is everything and her whole family could afford a private
lawyer. But I dont have a cent. I have no family in this country
and I have no contact with my family. I am alone now.
Ana has never granted an interview since she has been on death row, although
she has been offered large sums of money to do so. She trusts no one,
During my trial, the press made me feel like the worst. They humiliated
me, and I hadnt said a word yet. Everything they said about me was
horrible. These people who work in the media dont care about peoples
feelings. They just look for sensationalism. I mean, they could show the
public something and further their profession. [But] reporters dont
care if a person suffers or if someone is telling the truth or a lie.
They play with the pain and despair a person feels.
At this point Ana feels powerless and relies totally on her court-appointed
lawyers, who have told her she is not allowed to speak to anyone about
her case. She explains:
I dont understand anything of how the legal system works. The
lawyer can just tell me whatever he wants. I hope he helps me. I have
no alternative but to hope. The only help I have is from my lawyers; no
one else can help me. I feel bad because I dont know what to do.
I see how other women search in the library and the legal books about
their cases. And they confront their lawyers if they tell them something
that isnt true. But I dont speak English and I dont
understand anything in these books that are only in English. Hopefully,
I will get justice. All I want is justice, only justice.
Ana Cardona is one of three Latina women on death row in the United States
today. Like most of the women on death row, these women are poor and their
defense has been the responsibility of court-appointed lawyers who have
neither the time, money, or in some cases, the interest to investigate
Kathleen A. OSheas new book, Women and the Death Penalty
in the United States, 1900-1998 is due out from Praeger.