MIAMI (AP) — The caretaker of foster child Rilya Wilson grew to hate the 4-year-old because of defiant behavior, finally smothering the girl with a pillow in 2000 and covering up the slaying with a web of lies, a Florida prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Assistant State Attorney Joshua Weintraub said in closing arguments that the law permits the jury to find 67-year-old Geralyn Graham guilty of first-degree murder even though Rilya's body was never found. Graham, who insists she is innocent, faces life in prison if convicted.
Evidence and testimony during the eight-week trial showed that Graham abused Rilya, even confining the girl in a dog cage or keeping her hidden in a laundry room for hours, Weintraub said. It was all because Rilya wouldn't do exactly as Graham ordered, the prosecutor said.
"It happened because of this woman's frustration and hatred of Rilya," Weintraub said. "This woman hated Rilya Wilson for a variety of reasons."
Defense attorney Michael Matters, however, said there was little testimony about hatred or maliciousness toward Rilya on the part of Graham. Jurors ought to focus on what evidence the state did not have, he said.
"Lack of physical evidence. Lack of a body. Lack of any physical discovery of remains. Lack of a motive for killing her," Matters said. "You should use your common sense."
Jurors are likely to begin deliberations Wednesday, after the defense finishes its closing arguments and prosecutors have a chance at rebuttal argument.
Rilya's disappearance went unnoticed by the state Department of Children and Families for about 15 months, largely because a caseworker failed to check on the girl in person. The shocking discovery that she had disappeared led to a shake-up at the agency, including high-level resignations, and passage of reforms including better tracking of foster children.
The state's case rests heavily on the testimony of three jailhouse informants who claim that Graham implicated herself behind bars when she was in jail on a fraud charge.
The star witness, career criminal Robin Lunceford, said Graham told her she smothered Rilya with a pillow in December 2000 and disposed of the body near water.
Lunceford said Graham considered the child evil and referred to the girl as "it." One of the last straws was Rilya's insistence on wearing a Cleopatra mask on Halloween rather than an angel costume, Lunceford testified.
The defense has raised questions about Lunceford's motivation, noting that she got a life prison sentence reduced to 10 years in exchange for her testimony. Continued...