Deadlocked Rilya Wilson jury back in court for deliberations

 

With one holdout on a murder charge, jurors resumed deliberating Friday.

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

The deadlocked jury in the Rilya Wilson murder trial returned to court Friday morning and began deliberating at about 10 a.m.

After eight weeks of often-gripping testimony from dozens of witnesses and with a dog cage displayed prominently in the courtroom, it has come down to this: one lone juror.

That single juror could not agree Thursday with 11 others in deciding on a murder charge against Geralyn Graham, who prosecutors say smothered her 4-year-old foster daughter and disposed of the body.

But the foreperson, in her note to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, said the jury had indeed agreed on verdicts for the other charges: three counts of aggravated child abuse and one of kidnapping.

Those verdicts will not be known until the deliberations are finished Friday – or the judge calls for a mistrial on the murder count.

As they exited Thursday night, many jurors looked exasperated and exhausted, their arms sternly folded.

Graham, 67, of Kendall, is charged with aggravated child abuse, kidnapping and first degree murder. She faces life in prison if convicted.

For weeks, prosecutors have tried to make the case that Graham murdered Rilya, smothering the little girl with a pillow in December 2000, then telling a host of lies to cover up her disappearance.

“Lies, deceit and cover-up,” prosecutor Joshua Weintraub told jurors.

Graham’s lover, Pamela Graham – who is not related to the defendant – testified that Geralyn Graham told her she would never see the girl again, and pressured her to lie about her disappearance.

Geralyn Graham secured a dog cage to keep the girl from climbing on furniture and restrained her to the bed using “flex cuffs,” Pamela Graham told jurors. And Geralyn Graham refused to say what happened and even threatened her with a hammer if she called authorities.

“I didn’t know but I thought something bad had happened,” Pamela tearfully told jurors.

Graham, in jail on a related fraud charge, was indicted for murder in 2005 after a jail inmate, Robin Lunceford, told police that the woman tearfully confessed to smothering the child with a pillow, then disposing of the body near a body of water.

Lunceford provided intimate details about the case that few knew, prosecutors said.

But Lunceford, a combative and eccentric longtime con, had credibility issues. She got a plea deal for armed robbery in exchange for testimony.

“Every bit of the story she concocted about my client is absolutely unbelievable,” defense lawyer Michael Matters told jurors Wednesday. “She graduated from prison life with a master in manipulation and a doctorate in deceit.”

Rilya was born to a crack-addicted mother, and by 2000, was living with Graham under state supervision.

The state Department of Children and Families would later come under intense scrutiny because the agency failed to notice the girl was missing for more than a year.

When the agency finally noticed Rilya was gone in April 2002, Geralyn Graham told investigators that an unnamed DCF worker had whisked the the child away for mental health treatment.

The little girl’s disappearance spurred massive upheaval and reforms, leading to a series of public hearings, a scathing report, legislative changes and a even a visit to Miami by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Several DCF employees were fired, the top Miami administrator resigned and Secretary Kathleen Kearney left the agency months later.

Prosecutors at Graham’s trial presented a circumstantial case that included a host of DCF employees, plus friends who testified about the woman’s conflicting accounts of what happened to the girl.

Judge Tinkler Mendez will allow jurors to continue deliberating Friday before pushing them - in a legal instruction known as an “Allen Charge” - to find a way to come to an unanimous decision.

If they cannot reach a decision after the judge’s instructions, then a mistrial could be declared on the murder count. However, jurors could come back with a lesser crime such as second-degree murder or manslaughter.

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