MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Congresswoman Frederica Wilson was in attendance Thursday when the murder trial of Geralyn Graham reconvened for a seventh day. Graham is the foster parent accused of killing Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago.
Congresswoman Wilson took special interest in the case several years ago as a state senator and helped pass the Rilya Wilson Act into law in July 2003.
Wilson’s appearance followed another day of testimony that featured another Department of Children and Families employee, Dora Betancourt, testifying that Rilya’s file was incomplete and no progress reports on Rilya had been completed in more than 15 months.
Betancourt was frustrated with the 15-month gap and set up a meeting with Graham at her home on April 18, 2002. Just as she arrived, Geralyn Graham pulled into the driveway with Rodericka, Rilya’s younger sister.
Betancourt asked Graham where Rilya was and Graham said that she had previously called DCF about Rilya’s “bizarre behavior” issues and an “worker” came to her home in January 2001, took her away, and never brought her back.
She also testified that Graham told her she was Rilya’s paternal grandmother, but Betancourt said the paperwork did not indicate that. When asked if Graham expressed shock at the fact that Rilya was missing, Betancourt testified, “Not in the way a grandmother would be if a child was missing.”
Also testifying Thursday was former DCF investigator Elizabeth Laufer, who said she was called in after Rilya was reported missing:
“We learned that the child was no longer there and there was no satisfactory explanation at the time as to what happened to her,” Laufer said.
According to Laufer, Graham claimed Rilya was a difficult child.
“She was afraid to be in large groups. She had pulled her sister underwater in the…bathroom,” Laufer said.
“She had physically abused the younger child by hitting her,” Laufer added.
She detailed a particularly disturbing incident on Rilya’s last Halloween.
“Geralyn had purchased an angel costume for Rilya, and she absolutely refused to wear it. Somebody else in the family had Cleopatra’s costume, and she wanted to be Cleopatra. She took the mask from this outfit and glued it to her face.”
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, former DCF caseworker and key witness Deborah Muskelly testified.
An investigation showed 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.
In court Tuesday, Muskelly admitted to falsifying mileage records, saying she “guesstimated.” Defense attorneys for Graham contended she lied.
Eventually Muskelly resigned from DCF and pleaded guilty to official misconduct for falsifying time sheets. She was placed on five years’ probation and paid restitution to the state.
On the witness stand, Muskelly talked about Rilya’s former foster parent Pamela Kendrick. She testified Rilya was happy with Kendrick.
But Geralyn Graham persuaded retired DCF supervisor Willie Harris to move Rilya to her home so she could be with her younger sister Rodericka, who was already under Graham’s care.
Willie Harris testified last week that he removed Rilya from the Kendrick home after Graham called DCF to report Rilya was being kept in filthy conditions and Kendrick refused to allow him to inspect her house.
Muskelly also told the jury that she never saw Graham display any affection toward Rilya and never complained about behavior problems she claims the girl had.
Based on Graham’s purported confession to fellow jail inmates, prosecutors say she smothered Rilya with a pillow and buried her body near a lake or canal. But Rilya’s remains have never been found, and part of the defense is to raise doubt for jurors about whether Rilya might really still be alive.
Jailhouse snitches Robin Lunceford and Pamela Graham are expected to testify later in the trial, which is scheduled to last several more weeks. Lunceford is expected to testify that Graham told her she killed Rilya because the little girl was evil.
Pamela Graham is expected to testify as per a plea deal with prosecutors that will likely allow her to avoid jail.
Graham is facing first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse charges, and faces life in prison if convicted.