MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Jury selection got underway Monday in the trial of a caregiver accused of killing a foster child left in her care.
The trial of Geralyn Graham, 66, for the murder of Rilya Wilson, 4, is expected to last about two months.
Last September, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez denied defense motions seeking to toss out a purported confession by Graham because she did not have a lawyer present when she reportedly made the statements. Judge Tinkler-Mendez also ruled that she will allow statements Graham made to a police detective.
Graham is facing first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse charges.
She has pleaded not guilty but prosecutors are relying heavily on testimony from jail inmates including Robin Lunceford who claimed Graham confessed to them that she smothered the child and disposed of the body near a lake.
Lunceford will be a key prosecution witness.
“It is always problematic for the government when it has to build a case on jailhouse snitches,” said Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University who has followed the case over the years. “In the end, the government may lose, particularly if Graham can present a reasonable alternative explanation for Rilya’s disappearance.”
Rilya’s disappearance wasn’t noticed by state child welfare officials for 15 months. Her body has never been found.
An investigation showed that a DCF caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, did not make required monthly visits to the Grahams’ home for more than a year, even though she was filing reports and telling judges the girl was fine. Muskelly was eventually placed on five years’ probation after pleading guilty to official misconduct for falsifying time sheets.
The case had far broader ramifications, leading to the resignation of then-DCF director Kathleen Kearney and launching of several reforms.
Caseworkers are now required to visit a child monthly and carry GPS units that stamp a date and location to make sure every child is accounted for. But it wasn’t until last July that caseworkers were required to go beyond simply taking a picture at those visits and get critical updates about how the child is doing in school, whether they have any medical concerns or how they are faring socially in the home.
State lawmakers also made it illegal to falsify records of visits between child welfare workers and children in the agency’s care.
Graham faces life in prison if convicted in the little girl’s slaying.
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