Miami-Dade County

State won’t pursue murder charge against caretaker of foster child Rilya Wilson

Prosecutors won’t retry a Kendall woman already in prison in connection with the murder of Miami foster child Rilya Wilson, who disappeared 13 years ago in a scandal that rocked the state’s child welfare agency.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office announced the decision to drop the prosecution Wednesday, nine months after jurors deadlocked, 11-1, on the murder charge against Geralyn Graham.

But the 67-year-old woman won’t be getting of prison. That same jury found Graham guilty of aggravated child abuse and kidnapping, convictions that led to a 55-year prison term.

Graham is “reported physically ill,’’ according to a state attorney’s memo. “The length of her sentence is essentially a life sentence.”

Prosecutors believe Graham in December 2000 smothered Rilya with a pillow, disposed of her body in South Miami-Dade, and then spent years telling conflicting versions of what happened to the foster child. The girl’s remains have never been found.

Graham and her lover were caretakers for the child, born to a drug-addicted Ohio woman. The case led to massive reform at Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which had failed to discover the child was missing for more than a year.

Graham falsely claimed to investigators that a DCF case worker whisked the child away for some sort of mental health treatment, prosecutors say.

She was indicted in 2005 after Miami-Dade police said she confessed in detail to a cellmate that she murdered the child.

The inmate, Robin Lunceford, an eccentric longtime convict who got a plea deal for her testimony, was one of the star witnesses in the trial. She is now out of prison and on probation.

Graham’s ex-lover, Pamela Graham, no relation, also testified during trial that the woman kept Rilya locked in a laundry room, tied her to a bed and used a dog cage to keep the child from climbing on furniture.

Proving the murder count — based on Lunceford’s word, plus the testimony of two other prison inmates – was always an uphill battle for prosecutors.

The other two inmates have since told prosecutors they would no longer cooperate against Graham because of harassment within the prison, according to the memo. And Lunceford was recently listed as a defense witness in an unrelated Miami-Dade murder case, giving further ammunition to Graham’s defense attorneys who have long attacked her credibility.

“I think the state realized they could never bring those jailhouse snitches before another jury and hope to win,” said Graham’s defense attorney, Michael Matters.

Graham is appealing her conviction.

Prosecutors say, however, they could re-file the murder charge if detectives are able to find Rilya’s body.

In Wednesday’s memo, prosecutors detailed several recent attempts to find the young girl’s remains, including the recent discovery of female child’s skull in a lake in Margate.

However, investigators could not extract a usable DNA sample from the skull to match to Rilya’s.

“Over the coming years, there may be other glints of information claiming to lead to Rilya’s body and they too would be followed up,” prosecutors wrote in Wednesday’s memo. “This remains a circumstantial case of a homicide without a body.”