Even as she was about to face justice for kidnapping and child abuse, Geralyn Graham insisted she never harmed foster child Rilya Wilson.
“I love her too much to ever have done anything to her. Things have been greatly exaggerated,” Graham said. “I ask that those who believe I’ve done these things forgive me, and those who know in their hearts I would never do these things to keep praying for me. The truth will come out.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, however, was not swayed — sentencing Graham to 55 years in prison. That means the 67-year-old Graham will likely die behind bars.
The judge lamented that Florida’s child welfare system failed the 4-year-old girl, whose disappearance from Graham’s home went unnoticed for more than a year.
“One can only be inherently evil to inflict that type of pain and torment on an innocent child,” Tinkler Mendez told Graham. “Rilya Wilson deserved nothing less than a loving, caring, nurturing environment. Instead she lived in fear and suffered in a house of torture, torment and abuse.”
Graham was convicted by jury last month. Tinkler Mendez could have sentenced Graham to as much as life in prison, and to as little as 11.5 years behind bars.
Prosecutors believe Graham smothered Rilya, a foster child, with a pillow, disposed of her body near water in South Miami-Dade, then spent years telling conflicting versions of what happened to the child. Jurors, by an 11-1 vote, deadlocked on a count of first-degree murder.
The jury convicted Graham of kidnapping, two counts of aggravated child abuse and one of child abuse.
After Tuesday’s sentencing, prosecutors embraced U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a former state senator who championed Rilya’s case and pushed for DCF reform. Speaking to reporters, Wilson held hands with Rilya’s older sister, Brandy Sims, who doesn’t remember her little sister.
“She will spend the rest of her life in prison,” a satisfied Wilson said.
The case was significant for the Florida Department of Children & Families, which did not notice the girl was missing for 15 months. Graham told investigators that a mystery DCF worker whisked the child away for mental health treatment.
Graham was later arrested for and convicted of fraud. Based on incriminating statements from her domestic partner, Graham was then charged with aggravated child abuse of Rilya.
Her partner, Pamela Graham, no relation, agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child neglect.
Pamela Graham, a meek shell of a woman, testified at trial that Geralyn Graham would bind the child’s hands to the bed railing with plastic “flex cuffs” and confine Rilya in a laundry room for hours.
A friend of the pair told police that Graham borrowed a dog cage to put Rilya in when she misbehaved, although no could say they saw the child in there as punishment.
Acquaintances also testified that Graham gave conflicting stories about what happened to the girl — to some, she claimed the girl was on a road trip with a “Spanish lady” friend.
A grand jury indicted Geralyn Graham in 2005 after she allegedly confessed in detail to inmate Robin Lunceford, who testified at trial over four days. Two other inmates also testified that Graham, while behind bars, suggested she killed the child.