11 angry jurors

Hold-out juror refused

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter
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MIAMI - Deep breath.

I think that juror got it right.  

That one hold-out, the lone juror who, for two days, refused to be swayed beyond a reasonable doubt that Geralyn Graham murdered little Rilya. The one that so frustrated the other 11 that one slammed a notebook on the way into the jury box and another could not hold back tears as the judge implored them to keep trying.  The one that forced Judge Tinkler-Mendez to declare a mistrial on a murder charge 10 years in the making.

That unpopular, pressure-filled, gut-wrenching decision was the correct call.  I know that is a wildly unpopular opinion, but hear me out.

From the day we first interviewed Geralyn Graham in Spring 2002, it was hard to imagine that anyone BUT Graham was responsible for her disappearance.  Ten years later, the community knows in its collective heart, Rilya can't possibly be alive.  And anyone who has been paying attention will sensibly decide there is no one else could have killed her but Graham.  But, by law, in that courtroom, the jurors are instructed that common sense and deduction can be trumped by reasonable doubt.  And in this case, there is most certainly cause for reasonable doubt.

Think of Casey Anthony, OJ Simpson.  Who else but they could have had the reasons, intentions and passions to murder those once closest to them.  But the legal standard asks for more.

Engaged in almost every day of that trial, I can tell you prosecutors did an amazing job of building the best possible case with the evidence they had available.  Over the course of eight weeks, they unspooled for jurors the complicated narrative of a little foster child moved like a pawn, abused, and forgotten.  Dozens of witnesses recounted how a charming, yet domineering Graham lied about her past and her family, stole welfare subsidies, how she came to hate Rilya and punished her in ways that made me flinch as they were described, told conflicting stories about where the litter girl had gone and with whom.

But they couldn't possibly have any evidence of Rilya, herself, mostly because she had been missing for so long by the time anyone realized.  Do the slacker DCF employees that never checked on her have a hand in her demise?  You bet.  But that left the prosecutors pegging their evidence of murder on some jail inmates with ulterior motives who said Graham confessed.  I found their testimony believable and in one case, startlingly comprehensive, with details no one else but Graham would have known back then.  That said, there were enough inconsistencies raised make "reasonable doubt" hard to ignore.

There was plenty of evidence that Graham abused Rilya, and the jury agreed within the first few hours of deliberations to convict her on those charges.  They decided Graham also met the standards of a kidnapper.  But murder? 

We'll never know what went on in that jury room for the better part of 12 hours.  Most of the jurors declined to reveal publicly how that one juror handled the conflict and pressure of being the sole voice of doubt.  There would be no turning of the tides as in the fictional account of Juror #8 in the iconic movie "12 Angry Men."

This is one of the reasons I love covering trials.  The wild emotion, passions and actions that put the players there in the first place are then governed by rules, logic, facts and fairness.  At least, that's how it's supposed to be, and jurors are instructed so from the beginning.  And I've seen jurors struggle with themselves to get it right.

Yes, I'm pretty sure Geralyn Graham murdered that chubby-cheeked 4-year-old smiling in the only photos that remain.  But "pretty sure" doesn't count in a conviction.

Sentencing is scheduled for February 12th.  And Ms. Graham, for kidnapping and child abuse, does face the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison. 

Stay tuned.

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