A day after telling jurors that Geralyn Graham confessed in jail to killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson, jailhouse informant Robin Lunceford repeatedly sparred Thursday with a defense lawyer who sought to portray Lunceford as a malcontent and opportunist who would say anything to get out of prison.
Lunceford testified that she befriended Graham in jail in 2004, and, while the two shared a cell before attending court hearings, Graham admitted smothering Rilya with a pillow. Lunceford said she was outraged by the child’s death — “anything that has to do with a child, that’s my pet peeve”— but over the years she balked at testifying because of the abuse she said she endured from inmates and guards after being labeled a “snitch.”
“I went back and forth” about testifying, Lunceford said Thursday. But “justice for Rilya always wins over.”
Graham, 66, is accused of killing Rilya, a foster child in her care, sometime around Christmas 2000, when the girl was last seen alive. State welfare workers, however, did not realize Rilya was missing until April 2002.
Rilya’s body was never found, making Lunceford’s testimony all the more crucial to the state’s murder case against Graham, who is also accused of child abuse and kidnapping.
Michael Matters, a defense lawyer for Graham, argued that Lunceford testified not for justice but so she “could get a break” — early release from prison. Lunceford was serving a life sentence — for a May 2004 armed robbery — until 2011, when her prison stint was reduced to 10 years in a deal with prosecutors in exchange for her testimony. Lunceford said she had also turned down a previous 15-year plea offer.
Lunceford — who has 26 felony convictions, and has spent 28 of her 50 years in prison — said she would have gladly served her life sentence and was content to stay in prison. “I was perfectly comfortable. Nice babes. I was fine,” she said.
But Matters noted that Lunceford had filed court appeals seeking to get a new trial or reduce her sentence — appeals Lunceford dropped as part of her deal with prosecutors. And Lunceford filed 20 different complaints against corrections officers at one Miami-Dade jail facility alone.
“I file grievances every time the wind blows,” Lunceford said. “All truthfully.”
Graham’s lawyers had hoped to show Lunceford’s desperation to get out of prison by telling jurors that Lunceford had escaped from three different prisons over the years. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez disallowed any mention of the escapes.
Matters also questioned Lunceford about her role in other murder cases: Lunceford was listed as a witness in three other murder cases involving female defendants Lunceford had met in jail or prison — including Ana Maria Cardona, the defendant in the notorious “Baby Lollipops” child murder case.
Lunceford said another prosecutor tried to coerce her into testifying in the Cardona case, and accused the prosecutor of trying to seduce her. She insisted that she was not seeking a plea bargain by gathering information on other inmates. “I never willingly offered to testify ever,” Lunceford said.
The defense lawyer also tried to cast doubt on Lunceford’s testimony about Graham’s confession by questioning how much interaction the pair had in jail, and challenging Lunceford’s motivation for befriending Graham.
“I flirt with everybody,” Lunceford said, explaining that the relationship changed “as soon as [Graham] indicated there was a child that was murdered and tortured.”
Graham’s murder trial will recess for the holidays and resume in early January.