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 informant 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.
Lunceford, who is testifying under a plea deal that spares her a life prison sentence, 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.
Rilya's disappearance was not noticed by the state Department of Children and Families for some 15 months, triggering a statewide scandal that led to high-level resignations and reforms including improved monitoring of foster children. Defense attorneys have also 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 days-long timeouts in a laundry room. Those witnesses said they never saw the so-called evil and strange behavior that Graham discussed.
The defendant's alleged confession came the same day homicide detectives met with Graham to tell her she was being charged with kidnapping and child abuse. Miami-Dade police Det. Chris Stroze said he urged Graham to come clean.
"I told her that basically at this point we're all looking for some closure on this. That this spirit, this child, needs a proper place to rest. I told her about proper burial, a ceremony, so that people could put this, part of this, to some kind of rest," Stroze testified.
Lunceford, who said she has spent 28 of her 50 years in jail or prison, faced a possible life sentence as a habitual offender before she came forward with Graham's alleged confession. In return for her testimony, her sentence for armed robbery was reduced to 10 years and she is set for release in March 2014, if not earlier.
But Lunceford insisted she is not testifying for her own benefit.
"At first I thought she was crazy. And then, I wanted to beat the crap out of her. I don't like baby killers and I don't like molesters," Lunceford said. "I figured since it was a child, absolutely. I was going to try to find out."
Geralyn Graham admonished for outbursts
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez warned defendant Geralyn Graham she would be removed from court she makes another outburst. Graham's former companion Pamela Graham was testifying Tuesday when Geralyn Graham accused her out loud of lying.
"Stop lying, Pam. Tell them what happened Tell the truth!" said Geralyn Graham.
In another outburst, she said Pamela Graham was holding Rilya in her arms on the day in 2000 when investigators believe the girl was killed.
"The last time I saw Rilya, she was in your (Pamela's) arms," she said.
Geralyn Graham apologized for the outbursts. Testimony resumed Wednesday as retired Miami-Dade Police detective Archie Moore testified why Graham was first arrested for child abuse but not murder. He then discussed a phone call made from the jail to one of the detectives involved in the case.
"We did not know who the person was that was calling," said Moore.
"Did the information have to do with the disappearance of Rilya Wilson?" asked prosecutor David Gilbert.