Friends puzzled by the disappearance of the little girl. State child welfare administrators stunned at the vanishing of the 4-year-old foster child. A slew of police investigators dispatched to work the case.
A pathetic shell of a woman, cowed by an older lover into keeping her silence. Three prison inmates — one an eccentric con with a long rap sheet — who said they learned the truth about the crime while behind bars.
For eight weeks, these were the witnesses who testified against Geralyn Graham, who is accused of murdering foster child Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago. And on Tuesday, their photos adorned an eight-foot-long timeline poster board, suspended from the ceiling by chains of paper clips as a Miami-Dade prosecutor weaved each of their stories into a chilling. if circumstantial. narrative.
Graham, driven by festering hatred for little rambunctious Rilya, smothered the girl with a pillowcase, disposed of her body and for years concocted a web of “fanciful” tales to hide the crime, the state said.
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“Lies, deceit and coverup,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Joshua Weintraub told jurors during closing arguments.
The arguments come more than a decade after Rilya disappeared, a case that rocked the Florida Department of Children & Families, which for 18 months did not realize the girl was missing. Authorities never found Rilya’s body.
Graham, 67, is charged with aggravated child abuse, kidnapping and first-degree murder. Testimony in her trial began Nov. 26. She faces life in prison if convicted.
Jurors are expected to deliberate Wednesday after defense lawyers and prosecutors complete their final arguments.
A grand jury indicted Graham in 2005 after a jailhouse witness, Robin Lunceford, told police that the woman tearfully confessed to smothering the child with a pillow and burying the body near water in South Miami-Dade.
Weintraub recounted how DCF placed Rilya at the Graham house, how the agency discovered the disappearance and heard the varying accounts Graham gave about the girl’s absence.
To some, Graham claimed a “Spanish lady” she met at a park had taken Rilya on a trip to New York. To investigators, she claimed in April 2002 that an unnamed DCF worker had whisked the girl away — never to return — for some sort of mental health treatment.
“It’s incomprehensible that a child would disappear into thin air,” Weintraub said.
The key witness: Pamela Graham, Geralyn Graham’s younger lover, who was also the girl’s legal custodian. Weintraub said Pamela — who admitted she went along with her lover’s lies out of fear — was flawed.
“Pamela Graham, one of the most gutless, mousy women you will ever meet,” Weintraub said. “But for Pam Graham’s cowardice and unwillingness to stand up to her 18-years-senior lover, we might have known what happened to Rilya a lot earlier.”
Pamela testified that Graham kept the child confined in the laundry room, used “flex cuffs” to restrain her to a bed and secured a dog cage to keep Rilya from climbing on the furniture. Graham refused to tell Pamela what happened to Rilya, and even threatened her with a hammer if she called police, Pamela testified.
Defense attorney Michael Matters suggested Pamela was just a jilted lover who admitted she never actually saw the girl confined in the cage. He showed jurors photos of a happy, healthy-looking Rilya
“Sure doesn’t look like Rilya is afraid to go in that laundry room or that dog cage,” Matters said.
Defense attorneys tried to shift the blame to DCF, and specifically case worker Deborah Muskelly, who admitted she lied in claiming she was making regular visits to the Graham home to check on Rilya. Muskelly later pleaded guilty to falsifying time sheets to show she was working with DCF when she was actually working as a substitute teacher.
“Deborah Muskelly did whatever she could to make a buck,” said Matters, who suggested detectives did not investigate any role Muskelly herself might have played in the girl’s disappearance.
The latter weeks of the trial featured Lunceford, plus two other inmates who claimed Graham suggested to them that she had killed the child. A stream of current and former corrections employees testified about the jail and prison world in which the women live.
Graham’s defense focused on destroying the credibility of Lunceford, a colorful con with a long rap sheet who got a reduced prison sentence in return for her testimony. She spent four days on the witness stand.
A former inmate, Cindy McCloud, told jurors that Lunceford concocted the whole story to reduce her sentence. Prosecutors countered that McCloud is a “scorned lover” looking to exact revenge on Lunceford.