A career criminal with more than two dozen convictions and just as many aliases told jurors Wednesday that Geralyn Graham confessed to the murder of 4-year-old Rilya Wilson when the two women shared a jail cell in August 2004.
Robin Lunceford, a 50-year-old convict with a gift for eliciting jailhouse confessions and a penchant for prison escapes, told jurors that Graham admitted to the crime while the pair sat in a courthouse holding cell moments after Graham learned that Miami-Dade prosecutors had charged her with kidnapping and child abuse in the disappearance of Rilya, a foster child in Graham’s care. At the time, Graham was already facing welfare-fraud charges.
Based largely on Lunceford’s testimony, Graham now faces a murder charge, though Rilya’s body has never been found.
“She said she smothered it with a pillow,” Lunceford told the jury Wednesday. Lunceford said Graham repeatedly referred to the child as “it.”
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“She said that Rilya was evil and a demon,” Lunceford testified. She said Graham told her the 4-year-old had “mental problems.”
Lunceford said she had “flirted” with Graham in jail and gained her trust. “She asked me, if I was her friend, would I please not judge her.”
Lunceford also testified that Graham told her she buried Rilya near a body of water, but Graham did not give precise details. “She said she wasn’t stupid: ‘No body, no murder,’ ” Lunceford said.
Prosecutors believe Rilya was killed around Christmas 2000. However, welfare workers with the Department of Children and Families did not realize that Rilya was missing until around April 2002 — a scandal that rocked the agency.
Lunceford agreed to testify as part of an agreement with prosecutors reducing her life sentence in an armed robbery case to 10 years; she will now be eligible for release no later than 2014. Graham’s lawyers are expected to attack Lunceford’s credibility Thursday by highlighting the sentencing deal — and Lunceford’s repeated attempts to testify in other trials.
In 2005, while awaiting trial on the robbery charge, Lunceford 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.
Prosecutors on Wednesday 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.
When prosecutors finally agreed in March 2011 to reduce her life sentence, Lunceford said as part of the deal she “couldn’t cuss you people out anymore.”
Under questioning from Assistant State Attorney Josh Weintraub, Lunceford said she had received no plea-bargain offers prior to the 2011 sentencing deal. However, in 2005, Lunceford’s lawyer at the time, the late Ellis Rubin, told reporters that Lunceford had rejected a 20-year plea offer from prosecutors before she pleaded guilty to the robbery charge.
Defense lawyer Michael Matters dragged Lunceford through her history of felony convictions and phony names — a criminal record so lengthy that Lunceford admitted she can’t keep track of it. “I had a lot of convictions,” Lunceford said. “I don’t sit around counting them.”
Matters noted that Lunceford has been convicted of 26 felonies in Florida, Illinois and Nevada — including convictions for three prison escapes. But jurors will not be allowed to hear details of those convictions.
To show the credibility of Lunceford’s testimony, prosecutors noted that Lunceford also wrote down her recollections of her conversation with Graham after returning to her regular cell after hearing Graham’s confession. Prosecutors showed jurors copies of the papers Lunceford drafted, which Lunceford shared with a homicide detective only a few days after her encounter with Graham.
Lunceford testified that Graham shared details of her problems controlling Rilya and said Graham complained that Rilya climbed on the refrigerator and sometimes spread feces on the floor — complaints echoed by other witnesses in the trial. Lunceford also said Graham told her that she borrowed a dog cage from a friend to prevent Rilya from climbing at night.