Geralyn Graham, accused of smothering her chubby-cheeked foster child with a pillow, escaped a murder conviction Friday by one jurors vote.
But she will not escape punishment.
All 12 Miami-Dade jurors, emotionally exhausted by two days of deliberations, agreed that Graham abused and kidnapped 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson.
She faces up to life in prison. Sentencing date: Feb. 12.
In all likelihood, Graham, 67, now convicted of aggravated child abuse and kidnapping, will die in prison. And little Rilyas body has yet to be found, a lingering and tragic chapter in the history of Floridas often-embattled child welfare agency.
There are many ways to achieve justice, and the fact that they didnt come back on a murder charge doesnt mean that justice was not done for Rilya Wilson, said Miami-Dade prosecutor Joshua Weintraub. But we can ensure that this woman never leaves the prison system, and that ensures justice.
Nevertheless, three jurors who asked not to be identified interviewed by The Miami Herald came away frustrated that one lone hold-out refused to budge from her position that there was no firm evidence that Graham killed Rilya.
Graham was the last person with the child, and her multiple lies about what happened to Rilya helped sway one juror toward a guilty conviction for murder.
It was very intense, she said, tearfully. We did the best we could but we cannot force someone. Its against the rules. Its very sad. Nobody cared about this kid from day one.
Another juror said the group carefully reviewed the testimony. The holdout couldnt see the evidence as the rest of us did, he said.
And, a third: We were heartbroken. We were devastated because 11 of us knew she was guilty.
The holdout juror could not be reached for comment. Defense attorney Michael Matters applauded the holdout for voting with her conscience.
That person should receive a medal, he said.
As for Graham, She was very stoic, Matters said. She knows that at the sentencing, there is a good likelihood that shell get maxed out.
Rilya, born to a crack-addicted mother, was placed in Grahams Kendall home in early 2000 by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
It was not until April 2002 that a caseworker discovered that the girl was no longer there.
Graham insisted that an unknown DCF employee a tall light-skinned woman with a Caribbean accent whisked the child away for a mental health evaluation, never to return.
In the ensuing upheaval at the agency, investigators discovered that Rilyas caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, had failed to monitor the child. She later was convicted of fraud related to her DCF work.
Soon after, Graham was arrested and in February 2003, jurors convicted her of fraud for using a friends ID to buy an SUV. Less than a year later, based on incriminating statements from her domestic partner, Graham was charged with aggravated child abuse of Rilya.
Her partner, Pamela Graham, no relation, agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child neglect.
Getting a conviction on the charges was never an easy task. With no confession from Graham, no eyewitnesses, no forensic evidence and no body, prosecutors had to weave a circumstantial case.