MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For the first time since the murder trial of Geralyn Graham got underway, Rilya Wilson’s older sister sat in the gallery to watch the proceedings.
Graham, 66, is charged with first degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated child abuse in connection with the 2001 disappearance of four-year old Rilya.
Rilya was a four-year old foster child and in the care of Graham’s live-in partner, Pamela Graham, when she went missing.
Wilson’s older sister, 18-year old Brandy Sims, was only six when her sister disappeared.
“I really wish I had the chance to meet her but unfortunately I won’t have that chance,” said Sims who attended the trial with her adoptive parents and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.
Outside the courtroom Sims, standing with her adoptive parents, spoke for the first time publicly about her sister.
“I remember as a little girl seeing her on the television and seeing that she had the same last name as me,” said Sims.
Sim’s adoptive parents said they never hid from her who she was but they did keep her from publicly acknowledging it until now.
In 2001, the Grahams had custody of her Rilya and her younger sister Rodericka. In 2002, the Department of Children and Families first noticed that Rilya was missing. A review found that her caseworker had not been checking on her for about a year and a half and had been falsifying reports about visits.
“The last we seen Rilya, she was two years old when we gave Brandi her fourth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. We held her. She had a chance to hold her,” said Rev. Willie Sims, Brandi’s adoptive father.
Testimony presented up until now has painted a picture of an abusive home in which Graham is accused of locking Rilya in a cage and even calling her the devil.
Rev. Sims said during this time he shared custody of Brandi with Graham and remembers how his daughter acted when he had to take her back to her.
“We had her on the weekends and had to take her back to that dwelling that she hated,” said Rev. Sims. She’s start crying when we would turn the corner.”
On the stand Monday, Diana Ramirez Romero, a Department of Children and Families employee who handles economic assistance, testified that Graham claimed false family ties to Rilya and her sister in order to qualify for state aid, which continued to flow for over a year after authorities believe Rilya was killed.
Ramirez Romero testified that Graham said she was the grandmother of Rilya and Rodericka, and that both girls lived with her. Ramirez Romero said that enabled Graham — who used the name Geralyn Smith in their meetings — to get cash assistance and food stamps.
Graham is not related to the girls and Pamela Graham was their official caretaker.
Ramirez Romero said Graham first applied for state benefits in February 2001 for Rilya and her younger sister. She periodically visited the welfare office several additional times until March 2002, a month before DCF officials finally realized that Rilya was missing.
Ramirez Romero said Graham always brought Rodericka with her to those meetings, and on one occasion she asked Graham why Rilya was never there.
“She told me it was too hard to handle two babies in the interview,” Ramirez Romero testified.
“Did she ever say, ‘DCF took Rilya?’,” asked prosecutor Sally Weintraub.
“No,” Ramirez Romero replied.
The amount of assistance Graham received was not disclosed.
Earlier Monday, former DCF administrator Barbara Toledo said she and her co-workers began to believe “something terrible had happened” when they were unable to verify Graham’s story about what happened to Rilya.
“We had never had a situation where we had a 4-year-old child who was missing for such an extensive period of time,” Toledo testified. “All of the stories we checked that Ms. Geralyn Graham told us led to nowhere.”
Last week DCF employee Dora Betancourt that she 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.”
For years, Congresswoman Wilson believed Graham’s explanation that someone from DCF had taken Rilya. After a decade, however, she came to doubt Graham’s story.
“She has to go to prison for this,” said Wilson, “This is not something you play with.”
Brandi Sims said she’s looking for justice.
“Justice in my mind is something to say that, that person is no longer going to hurt people. That person is no longer going to be the person to harm other people, or harm other children, in a way that they have harmed mys sister,” said Sims. “I wish that on no one or no child.”
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.
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