Crime

Caretaker’s conviction upheld in Rilya Wilson case

Geralyn Graham, talks to her attorneys Michael Matters, left, and attorney Scott Sakin, right, before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez. This was prior was to the reading of Graham's sentencing; she was convicted in the abuse and kidnapping of foster child Rilya Wilson, Tuesday, February 12, 2013.
Geralyn Graham, talks to her attorneys Michael Matters, left, and attorney Scott Sakin, right, before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez. This was prior was to the reading of Graham's sentencing; she was convicted in the abuse and kidnapping of foster child Rilya Wilson, Tuesday, February 12, 2013. Miami Herald File

The Kendall caretaker suspected of murdering foster child Rilya Wilson remains a convicted felon after an appeals court on Wednesday upheld her conviction for aggravated child abuse and kidnapping.

The Third District Court of Appeal ruled that jurors relied on “competent substantial evidence” in convicting Geralyn Graham, who is serving a 55-year sentence in a case that shook the state’s child welfare system.

“My prosecutors and I have spent more than a decade working to secure true justice for young Rilya Wilson,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. “Today’s court decision finally confirms all of our hard work done on her behalf.”

Rilya, who was 4 when she was last seen alive in December 2000, has never been found.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families placed the girl in Graham’s home but failed to note that she had vanished until April 2002. Graham gave conflicting versions of what happened to Rilya — 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.

A jailhouse informant, Robin Lunceford, also told jurors that Graham confessed to smothering the child with a pillow, then dumping the body in a canal or lake somewhere in South Miami-Dade.

At the trial, jurors convicted Graham of aggravated child abuse and kidnapping, but deadlocked on the murder charge — with just one juror refusing to convict for the slaying.

Prosecutors, satisfied with the 55-year prison sentence, declined to retry the murder charge. Lunceford, the eccentric and troubled witness, was let out of prison early for her cooperation — but has since been rearrested after violating her probation.

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