Rilya Wilson trial informant a witness again, this time for defense

 
 
In this 2012 file photo, Robin Lunceford answers Geralyn Graham's defense lawyer, Michael Matters, in court.
In this 2012 file photo, Robin Lunceford answers Geralyn Graham's defense lawyer, Michael Matters, in court.
MARICE COHN BAND / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Robin Lunceford, the blunt and colorful ex-inmate whose testimony was key in the trial of a woman accused of slaying Miami foster child Rilya Wilson, has again been enlisted as a court witness — this time, in a defense case.

Attorneys last week listed Lunceford as a defense witness in the unrelated case of North Miami’s Janepsy Carballo, whom prosecutors accused of murdering a man she suspected of killing her husband.

Lunceford, in a sworn statement attached to the witness list filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claims authorities sought to enlist her help informing on Carballo while the two were behind bars together. Lunceford said she refused.

“You cannot tell me she’s a criminal because she’s very naive and dumb to street life,” Lunceford said of Carballo in her statement, taken by a defense attorney. “If you’re trying to tell me she has some kind of big cartel going, that’s a negative because she’s nothing but a trophy wife.”

Exactly how defense lawyers will try and use Lunceford’s statement, or whether it would be admissible in court, is unclear. Carballo’s defense attorney, Nathan Diamond, declined comment.

In their court filings, prosecutors will show Lunceford’s statements are “blatantly false,” said Ed Griffith, a Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman. The office will ask a Miami-Dade judge to strike Lunceford from the witness list, Griffith said.

Lunceford’s emergence as a defense witness comes nine months after she took the stand against Geralyn Graham, accused of murdering 4-year-old Rilya in December 2000, disposing of the body in a canal or lake and concocting a web of lies surrounding the girl’s disappearance.

Lunceford, who told jurors that Graham gave a detailed and teary confession while the two shared a jail cell in 2004, was considered the state’s key witness in the murder case. Rilya’s body has never been found.

Jurors deadlocked on the murder charge but convicted Graham of kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. She was sentenced to 55 years in prison. Prosecutors plan to re-try her for the killing.

Lunceford, 50, boasts more than two dozen convictions just as many aliases and several escape attempts.

The fast-talking con agreed to testify as part of an agreement with Miami-Dade prosecutors reducing her life sentence in her armed robbery case to 10 years. She was freed from prison in May and is now on probation.

Lunceford has a stormy relationship with the State Attorney’s Office.

At Graham’s trial, she testified that she took the stand against Graham because the victim was an innocent child. And while Lunceford was earlier listed by the state as a witness in several other murder trials, she lashed out at prosecutors’ handling of those case, claimed she never agreed to cooperate and was no “snitch.”

Carballo is awaiting trial in the May 2008 killing of Ilan Nissim, who was a suspect in the murder of Carballo’s husband who was gunned down outside their North Miami home. In that attack, the couple's 20-month-old son survived with wounds to his arm and leg.

Prosecutors say Carballo lured Nissim to the home, then shot him in the back.

Carballo last year told a judge that she had worked with North Miami police in trying to gather evidence against Nissim in her husband’s murder. That day, she tearfully testified, Nissim showed up unexpectedly.

“I just started shooting like there was no tomorrow. In my mind, he was reaching for a gun that I had seen with him. The shots were so loud it freaked me out. In my head I was already feeling him shooting at me.”

Prosecutors, however, say her self-defense claim unraveled when she bragged to a confidential informant at the pain clinic where she worked that she had killed Nissim as revenge. The informant was wearing a police wire to investigate unrelated criminal activity at the clinic.

A Miami-Dade judge in December refused to grant Carballo immunity under Florida’s self-defense law, saying, “The inescapable conclusion is that the defendant lured the victim to the home and killed him.” Carballo will claim self-defense at a future jury trial.

Lunceford said in her statement that Carballo’s prosecutor, Abbe Rifkin, approached her after Lunceford had finished a deposition in the Graham case.

“She told me she wanted me to help her. She wanted me to gather information from Janepsy because I’m already so credible in the Rilya Wilson case,” Lunceford said.

Lunceford also said police detectives and federal agents visited her in jail trying to seek her help against Carballo, which she refused. Carballo’s defense lawyers also filed a witness statement from a neighbor who claims police distorted her account of Carballo’s husband’s killing.

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