A dozen years ago, Geralyn Graham called a friend and asked to borrow a dog cage — where Graham planned to keep her foster child, Rilya Wilson, during the night.
Graham “said she was going to use it to keep [Rilya] from doing harm to herself,” Graham’s friend, Detra Coakley Winfield, told jurors this week in Graham’s trial on murder and child-abuse charges.
Winfield said she supplied the dog cage, but she never saw Rilya inside it.Graham, 66, is accused of killing 4-year-old Rilya sometime around Christmas 2000, when the girl disappeared from the Kendall home that Graham shared with her domestic partner, Pamela Graham. Child welfare workers — who were supposed to be monitoring the foster child — did not notice Rilya’s disappearance until April 2002. The child’s body has never been found.
Graham has maintained that Rilya was taken from her home in January 2001 by an unidentified woman who claimed to be a worker with the Department of Children and Families — a story that prosecutors have called a lie, part of a cover-up to conceal the child’s death.
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Miami-Dade prosecutors began their case this week by focusing on Geralyn Graham’s treatment of Rilya, and Graham’s shifting explanations for Rilya’s absence after December 2000.
Winfield said she once saw Rilya confined in a laundry room as punishment for misbehavior. She said Rilya — born to a crack-addicted mother and later placed in foster care — often seemed “sad” during the eight months she lived at the Graham house. Winfield said Rilya appeared to have behavior problems, and she once watched the child play with feces.
“To me, she had some issues, some mental issues,” Winfield told jurors Thursday.
Around Christmas 2000, Graham told Winfield that Rilya was going to go on a trip to New York with a “Spanish lady” who had befriended the child. Winfield said she saw the woman, but never spoke to her.
Winfield said she never saw Rilya again after that.
After Rilya’s disappearance made the news in 2002, Winfield said she called Graham, who told her that the “Spanish lady” had returned Rilya — before a DCF worker came to take Rilya away again.
But during her testimony, Winfield often appeared confused about the sequence of events, and said she didn’t recall many details after all these years.
And under questioning from defense attorney Michael Matters, Winfield said that she never saw Graham strike Rilya.
But on Wednesday, another family friend, Laquica Tuff, told jurors that she saw Rilya with scratches and a gash on her forehead about two months before the girl’s disappearance. Tuff said Graham told also told her that Rilya was going on a “road trip” to New York and Disney World.
Graham “said she would be gone for awhile,” Tuff said.
Graham’s trial will resume on Tuesday.