Hoping for a reduced prison sentence, the star prosecution witness in the case of missing foster child Rilya Wilson concocted a story about the girl's former caretaker confessing to killing the child, a jury was told Thursday.
Cindy McCloud, 41, testified that the key witness, Robin Lunceford, told her while both were in state prison that she made up her story about caretaker Geralyn Graham smothering Rilya with a pillow and disposing of the girl's remains near water. The 4-year-old's remains have never been found.
Graham, 66, faces life in prison if convicted of murder, kidnapping and child abuse charges. Graham insists she is innocent and that Rilya was taken from her home by a child welfare worker for mental tests and never returned. Investigators have testified that no evidence has surfaced to back that up.
McCloud, who has been convicted of 27 felonies and was most recently released from prison in June, said Lunceford appeared upset one time when they were incarcerated at a prison near Ocala and McCloud asked what was wrong. Lunceford responded that she was going to testify about the purported confession and that none of it was true.
"Me and her were standing there and she said, 'you know, it's all lies. All of it,'" McCloud testified. "She just basically told me 'it's all lies and it's making me crazy.' That's what stresses her out."
Graham attorney Scott Sakin asked why Lunceford would make that up. "To get out. To go home," said McCloud, who now lives in Lakeland.
In addition, McCloud said she overheard Lunceford and another jailhouse informant, Maggie Carr, come up with a way for Carr to also testify against Graham in hopes of getting some benefit. Carr testified earlier that she also met Graham behind bars and that Graham had indicated Rilya's body would never be found because it had gone to "the elements."
At one point in prison, McCloud said Lunceford tapped on a stack of Graham trial documents and said, "One more big fat lie," in reference to Carr's testimony.
Lunceford, a career criminal, had been sentenced to life in prison before agreeing to testify, which resulted in a plea deal cutting the sentence to 10 years. McCloud said she showed her paperwork detailing the plea agreement.
"She had gotten her plea agreement before she testified because they weren't going to trick her," said McCloud. "She was just talking about how she had gotten her time knocked down and she was getting to go home."
Carr, who is serving 25 years to life for a role in a murder, has no plea deal in exchange for her testimony but will soon become eligible for parole.
Another inmate, Ramona Tavia, testified that Graham told her she killed Rilya to protect her live-in lover, Pamela Graham.
McCloud said she has nothing to gain and was made no promises in exchange for her testimony on Graham's behalf. She said she has never met Graham.
"I would hate to be in trial and convicted of something because of someone else's lies. I don't think that's right," she said.
Rilya went missing from Graham's home in late 2000, according to trial testimony, but her disappearance was not discovered until some 15 months later. The case caused a major shakeup within the state Department of Children and Families and led to passage of several child welfare reform laws.
One reason the case took so long to go to trial was that Lunceford's statement about the Graham confession didn't come to light until 2005, which was when Graham was charged with murder.
A judge refused Wednesday to order the acquittal of Graham despite arguments from defense attorneys that there's no conclusive proof Rilya is even dead. The prosecution rested Tuesday following five weeks of testimony.
Jurors could begin deliberations by the middle of next week.