MIAMI — The former caretaker of missing Florida foster child Rilya Wilson confessed to smothering the girl with a pillow because the woman said the child was "evil" and had mental problems that would never be cured, a jailhouse informer testified Wednesday.
Robin Lunceford said 66-year-old Geralyn Graham admitted to the killing while the two were in a holding cell alone together in Aug. 18, 2004. That was nearly four years after 4-year-old Rilya disappeared from the home Graham shared with her live-in female lover.
Rilya's disappearance went unnoticed by the state Department of Children and Families for about 15 months, triggering a statewide scandal that led to high-level resignations and reforms including improved monitoring of foster children.
Lunceford, who is testifying under a plea deal that spares her a life sentence in prison, said Graham referred to Rilya as "it" and claimed that the girl did unusual or strange things such as smearing feces on the floor and rubbing her hand on men's genitals. Lunceford said she and Graham became friends because they had adjoining jail cells and traveled back and forth to court appearances together.
"She said that Rilya was evil and a demon," Lunceford testified.
Graham reportedly told Lunceford, 50, she became increasingly frustrated by an inability to control Rilya and that the last straw came on Halloween 2000, when the girl refused to wear an angel costume in favor of a Cleopatra mask an older child had brought.
"She was enraged. She said at that point she knew what she had to do. She couldn't allow it to suffer like that. And that Cleopatra was evil and a slut," Lunceford quoted Graham as saying.
"Then she kind of whispered to me that she killed it, and I asked her how, and she said she smothered it with a pillow. I asked her twice. She said it was suffering and she couldn't allow it to grow up and suffer like that," Lunceford testified.
Later, Lunceford said Graham told her the body was buried near a canal or lake because "water represented peace."
Rilya's body has never been found. Lunceford's testimony is critical to the state's case because prosecutors have little physical evidence and no witnesses to any killing. Graham faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse charges.
Defense attorneys have suggested that Rilya may have been sold and could be alive.
Graham has insisted that Rilya was taken from her home by a DCF worker for a mental evaluation and never returned. Investigators, however, found nothing to substantiate that story and Graham's former companion Pamela Graham — they are not related — testified earlier that the tale was false.
Pamela Graham and other witnesses have testified that Geralyn Graham abused Rilya because she was disobedient, including tying her to her bed at night with plastic restraints and forcing her into dayslong timeouts in a laundry room. Those witnesses said they never saw the so-called evil and strange behavior that Graham discussed.