Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jurors in missing girl case stuck on murder count

MIAMI — Jurors said Thursday that they had reached verdicts on child abuse and kidnapping charges, but were deadlocked on a murder count against a woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago.

The jury said in a note Thursday they had voted 11-1 on the murder charge against 67-year-old Geralyn Graham, a charge that carries a potential life sentence. The note did not say which side had the majority or what the verdicts were on kidnapping and aggravated child abuse charges, which carry less severe sentences.

After more than three additional hours of deliberations, Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez ordered the panel to return this morning to continue.

The jury could opt for a less severe manslaughter charge rather than murder. All verdicts must be unanimous.

"All of us are depending on you to make a wise and legal decision in this matter," the judge told jurors earlier in the day.

Prosecutors said Graham, Rilya's caretaker, smothered the girl with a pillow in December 2000 and disposed of her body, which has never been found. Key to the case is a purported jailhouse confession by Graham to career criminal Robin Lunceford, who said Graham told her she did it because Rilya was evil and demonic.

Rilya's disappearance went unnoticed by state officials for 15 months, triggering high-level resignations at the Department of Children and Families and leading to passage of several reform laws, such as better tracking of foster children. A caseworker who failed to check up on Rilya in person during all those months eventually pleaded guilty to official misconduct charges for falsifying time sheets.

Graham's defense questioned the credibility of Lunceford and the fact that no physical criminal evidence exists.

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