MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A key witness took the stand for a second day in the Geralyn Graham child murder trial. Pamela Graham, Geralyn’s former live-in partner, tearfully answered questions Tuesday as they centered on the abuse 4-year-old Rilya Wilson endured before her disappearance became public.
She had testified that Geralyn Graham would tie Rilya Wilson’s hands together at night to prevent her from climbing up the refrigerator at night. Pamela said Rilya would often wake up at night, climb the refrigerator in an attempt to grab cupcakes and other sweets.
Pamela sobbed as Geralyn Graham’s defense attorney Scott Sakin asked her, “As much as you didn’t like the idea, it prevented Rilya from climbing on the fridge?”
“Yes,” she replied. In between tears, Pamela said, “like I said it was off and on.”
Pamela Graham, who was Rilya’s legal custodian, had testified a day earlier that she suspected the worst when the girl abruptly disappeared in late 2000, but did not contact police or child welfare officials because she was afraid of taking the blame.
Pamela, 48, also told jurors she never reported abuse involving the 4-year-old girl — including being tied to a bed with her wrists in plastic restraints — because she feared her live-in lover and the girl’s main caretaker, Geralyn Graham, who is on trial for murder in Rilya’s disappearance.
Pamela, who is not related to Geralyn although they claimed at times to be sisters, said her companion ran their household and lashed out when her authority was challenged. Pamela Graham, however, had legal custody of Rilya and a younger sister, Rodericka.
During questioning, Pamela admitted to lying to detectives about the purpose of a dog cage. Other witnesses have testified that Geralyn Graham intended to use a borrowed dog cage to put Rilya in.
“I believe I told detectives that we were going to get a dog,” Pamela said.
Geralyn Graham, 66, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, child abuse and kidnapping charges. Pamela Graham made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to child abuse and child neglect charges in return for her testimony, and likely will face no jail time.
Pamela also admitted to hitting Rilya with a switch when she misbehaved.
“You had disciplined Rilya and left marks on her legs,” Sakin said. “You were the one who decided not to take the child to get examined?”
“Yes,” Pamela Graham replied.
Rilya’s body has never been found and Pamela Graham said she does not know what happened to her. The girl’s disappearance caused a statewide scandal because child welfare officials did not realize she was missing for nearly 15 months, eventually leading to changes in the way foster children are monitored. Other child welfare reforms also followed.
In the fall of 2000, Pamela Graham said the relationship between Rilya and Geralyn Graham worsened. On Halloween that year, Rilya wasn’t allowed to go trick-or-treating because she insisted on wearing a Cleopatra mask instead of the angel costume that had been bought for her. A short time later, Pamela Graham said there were scrape marks on the sides of Rilya’s head where the mask had been glued on and then taken off.
Another time, Pamela Graham said she found Rilya crying in a bathtub of “extremely hot” water. Geralyn Graham told her it was punishment for wetting her bed. The bed restraints, Pamela Graham added, were to prevent Rilya from getting up at night and climbing on kitchen counters to reach sweet treats in a high cabinet.
One day in December of 2000, Pamela Graham returned from work to find Rilya gone. She said Geralyn Graham didn’t offer much of an explanation.
“She said (Rilya) wasn’t coming back and I wasn’t going to see her anymore,” Pamela Graham testified. “She just kept telling me Rilya was OK and not to worry. I thought something bad had happened.”
She said the two argued heatedly, and at one point that night, she started to call police but did not when Geralyn Graham threatened her with a hammer. Yet Pamela Graham admitted having her own selfish motives for not going to authorities.
“I was scared and I knew that I was the one that had legal custody of her. I was just afraid that whatever happened to her, I would be blamed for,” Pamela Graham said. “’It was selfish, I know, thinking about myself instead of her.”
Eventually, Geralyn Graham said they would tell anyone who asked that a Department of Children and Families worker had taken Rilya for mental testing and never returned her. To friends, they said she was on a trip to New York. Pamela Graham said none of it was true, but she remained silent for years.
It wasn’t until May 2004 that Pamela Graham admitted to a cold case investigator that there were many lies surrounding Rilya’s disappearance, including the story about a DCF worker taking the girl away. That was when she began cooperating.
“I was tired of carrying the lies I had previously told,” she said.
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