Star witness in Rilya Wilson case walks free from prison

05/20/2013 7:07 PM

05/20/2013 7:21 PM

Robin Lunceford, the blunt and eccentric inmate who was the star witness in the trial of a woman accused of murdering Miami foster child Rilya Wilson, is free from prison.

The convicted armed robber walked out of custody late last week after Miami-Dade prosecutors told a judge that Lunceford had served her 10-year sentence with credit for good behavior.

“It was the right thing to do. She was a good citizen and stepped up to the plate and contributed to the trial,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Joshua Weintraub said.

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

Florida’s state prison system had originally scheduled her release for December 2012, but it was pushed back to April 2014 after Lunceford was disciplined for confrontations with corrections officers and other inmates.

But prosecutors said those confrontations stemmed from Lunceford being targeted as a “snitch.”

After Lunceford’s testimony, a jury in January convicted Graham of kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. But the jury deadlocked — with one juror hold-out — on the murder charge. Graham was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office will re-try Graham for the killing. Rilya’s body has never been found.

In a scandal that rocked Florida’s Department of Children and Families, the agency did not realize that Rilya was missing until April 2002.

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. Prosecutors agreed with last week’s re-sentencing.

“She would have gotten out,” said her lawyer, Jon May. “It would have been now or a year from now.”

Lunceford won’t be completely free of supervision — she’ll be on probation for five more years. And she’ll be required to testify at Graham’s new murder trial.

“I’m not sure what her plans are,” May said. “I think she was certified as a personal trainer in prison, so she may try to work as a trainer.”

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

The colorful 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.

“Her release underscores what I said to the jury: the state is willing to do anything and everything to get her testimony, including getting her out of prison before she should have,” Graham’s defense attorney, Michael Matters, said on Monday.

Lunceford has long cooperated with authorities while behind bars.

In 2004, while awaiting trial on the robbery charge, she offered to testify against three other murder defendants who also allegedly confessed to her while in jail or prison. She also claimed to have information about a murder plot against a federal prosecutor.

Prosecutors declined to use Lunceford as a witness in those cases. In the Rilya Wilson case, the state indicted Graham for murder based largely on her word.

In the Rilya Wilson case, Lunceford told jurors over four days of testimony, that Graham confessed to smothering the child with a pillow. At the time, Graham was in jail awaiting trial on a welfare fraud case.

“She said that Rilya was evil and a demon,” Lunceford testified.

Prosecutors sought to portray Lunceford as a reluctant snitch. For several years, she refused to cooperate with the prosecutors handling the Rilya Wilson case, repeatedly telling prosecutors to “f--- off,” Lunceford testified.

Defense attorneys, in heated verbal sparring, repeatedly attacked Lunceford’s credibility and motives.

On the stand, she was open about wanting to testify because the alleged crime involved the killing of a child. On the stand, she remembered securing a photo of Rilya and affixing it to her prison ID, an act that drew blowback from the fellow inmates.

“I finally said, f--- everybody and I put her picture on my tab and if they don’t like it, they can kick my ass,” Lunceford said. “I am going to get on this stand.”

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