Mother charged in two-year-old's 2002 death after amended report shows shaken baby syndrome

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Unit has made an arrest in the murder of a 2-year-old girl after the case went cold for almost 20 years.

Mary Liza, 37, is being held in a jail in Yuba County, California, on an active warrant for the 2002 murder of her 2-year-old daughter in Niceville, according to an OCSO news release.

The case is the fourth cold case homicide that sheriff's investigators have made an arrest in this year.  

In other news:Cold case solved: Suspects in 2005 Fort Walton Beach shooting now in custody

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In December 2002, Liza requested a ride for herself and her daughter from a Niceville grocery store. The driver noticed that the child appeared to be lethargic and did not respond to him when he picked them up, an OCSO arrest report said. 

When they arrived at his home, Liza reportedly took the child into another room to change her diaper. Sometime after they left the room, the 2-year-old started to have a seizure, became unresponsive and stopped breathing.

She was rushed to the Twin Cities Hospital in Niceville, where an OCSO deputy responded in reference to possible child abuse.

During an on-scene investigation, the deputy saw 18 bruises on the child’s body, the report said. She also had blood clots that had formed near the surface of her brain.

A doctor diagnosed the victim with battered child syndrome because of her injuries. He also noted that the injuries had been inflicted recently, the report said. The 2-year-old died later at Scared Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

A medical autopsy was performed by the Office of the Medical Examiner for District One in January 2003. At the time, the victim’s death was ruled as a homicide caused by blunt force head trauma, according to the report.

OCSO investigators reviewing the case asked the District One Medical Examiner’s Office earlier this year to review the autopsy findings from 2003, believing a mistake had been made.

In April 2021, an amended autopsy report confirmed the child’s death was from “subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome,” and that injuries could have been inflicted in as little as three seconds, OCSO reported.

Liza has been interviewed by investigators in 2003. She told them them it was possible she could have done something to her daughter and not realized it because she said she had blacked out and did not recall the incident.

During interviews with people close to Liza, investigators learned that she “had a terrible temper” and did not have a history of blacking out, the report said.

The arrest warrant will be served when Liza is extradited to Okaloosa County.