For her crucial testimony in the high-profile case of a murdered Miami foster child, inmate Robin Lunceford got to walk free from a life prison sentence in May 2013.
Her freedom was fleeting.
Records show Lunceford, 52, absconded from her probation before she was arrested in Tennessee earlier this month while working as a lunch-shift waitress at a strip-mall Chinese restaurant. Now jailed in Nashville, the eccentric ex-con is fighting her extradition back to Florida.
She faces a Feb. 12 court hearing.
The arrest adds yet another twist to the story of Lunceford, a convicted armed robber, notorious prison escape artist and a prolific jailhouse snitch who has been listed as a witness in numerous murder cases over the years.
Lunceford even inserted herself in the legal saga of Orlando accused child killer Casey Anthony, calling the woman’s defense attorney in 2010 to rip the credibility of two fellow inmates who were looking to testify against Anthony.
Ultimately, Lunceford wound up testifying in just one trial – the prosecution of Geralyn Graham, the Kendall woman believed to have murdered missing foster child Rilya Wilson in December 2000.
Rilya’s disappearance sparked massive reform at Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which had placed the girl in Graham’s home but did not notice she was missing until April 2002.
The 4-year-old girl’s body has never been found.
Graham gave differing versions of what happened to the child, including that a mystery DCF worker whisked her away for treatment.
Her lover, Pamela Graham, eventually cooperated with Miami-Dade police. At the trial in late 2012, Pamela told jurors that Geralyn would bind the child’s hands to the bed railing with plastic “flex cuffs” and confine Rilya in a laundry room for hours.
The star witness was Lunceford, who told jurors that Graham gave a detailed and teary confession while the two shared a jail cell in 2004. Graham confessed that she smothered the child with a pillow, then later disposed of the body in a a canal or a lake somewhere in South Miami-Dade.
“She said that Rilya was evil and a demon,” Lunceford testified.
In brash and occasionally foul-mouthed testimony, she sparred with defense attorneys who attacked her credibility and motives.
Her cooperation nearly led to a murder conviction: 11 jurors wanted to convict, with just one refusing to budge. Graham, however, was convicted of aggravated child abuse and kidnapping. She’s doing 55 years prison now.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office declined to re-try Graham on the murder charge.
Lunceford had been doing a life prison term for armed robbery. But for her help, prosecutors agreed to cut the sentence to only 10 years – she walked free in May 2013, though she had to remain on probation for five years.
After leaving jail, Lunceford got plastic surgery and a tattoo of Rilya’s name before moving to Treasure Island, near Tampa. She continued to make waves in Miami-Dade criminal court.
Last year, she was listed as a defense witness for her one-time jailmate, Janepsy Carballo. Lunceford claimed prosecutors tried to recruit her to cooperate against Carballo, who was accused of murdering a man she believed was responsible for her husband’s killing.
Prosecutors discredited the claims. Her testimony was excluded from the trial. Carballo was convicted and is now doing life in prison.
It was in November that Lunceford disappeared from Florida, skipping out on reporting to her probation officer, according to an affidavit filed in court. She apparently went to California before resurfacing in Tennessee, where she got a part-time gig at the Asian House in a town called Goodlettsville.
Lunceford said she was living in a hotel with her two dogs, according to manager Shirley Ni.
How deputies were tipped off to Lunceford’s whereabouts is unclear but on Jan. 12, they walked into the restaurant and saw her in the back. She bolted out of a back entrance, according to a Davidson County Sheriff’s arrest report.
Deputies found her hiding behind a column at a nearby Baptist church. She was arrested on a fugitive warrant out of Florida.