MIAMI (CBSMiami) — After nearly 14 hours of deliberations, jurors remained deadlocked on a first-degree murder charge against accused child killer Geralyn Graham, which led the judge to declare a mistrial on that charge. Jurors did, however, reach a unanimous decision on the four remaining charges in the case of 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson.
On Count 2, jurors decided that Graham is guilty of kidnapping.
On Count 3, she was found guilty of aggravated child abuse.
On Count 4, she was found guilty of child abuse.
On Count 5, she was found guilty of aggravated child abuse. Graham could be sentenced to life in prison on the kidnapping verdict alone.
Earlier in the day the 12-person jury disclosed they were deadlocked 11-1 on the murder charge. The verdict must be unanimous. When jurors were unable to resolve their 11-1 split on the murder count, the judge declared a mistrial.
Over the phone, one juror, who asked us not to use his name, said he’s ready to put the trial behind him.
“We looked at the evidence and we saw what we saw,” he said. “Every one of us was fulfilled with the decision individually.”
The lack of a verdict on the first degree murder charge drew strong reaction from observers. Among the courtroom observers Friday were Geralyn Graham’s adult children including her daughter Angelique Mathis.
Rev. Willie Sims who adopted Rilya Wilson’s older sister Brandy Sims sat in the courtroom. Earlier, he said he had hoped there would be justice for Rilya. “We’re just concerned about justice and for my daughter Brandy it’s something that’s been on her mind for years,” Sims said.
State prosecutors had argued that 67-year-old Graham smothered 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson in late 2000 and disposed of her body, which has never been found.
”It happened because of this woman’s frustration and hatred of Rilya,” Assistant State Attorney Joshua Weintraub said in closing arguments. “This woman hated Rilya Wilson for a variety of reasons.” During his rebuttal closing, defense attorney Michael Matters hammered home a key point that no physical evidence links Graham to the child’s murder. The defense case focused on the possibility that Rilya might be alive and might have been sold to someone else.
The state’s case relied on the testimony of three jailhouse snitches who said Graham made incriminating statements about Rilya. One of those informants was convicted armed robber Robin Lunceford who the defense said concocted the story as a way to get out of prison. Matters told jurors there were numerous inconsistencies in Lunceford’s testimony. Lunceford, who has spent more than half of her life behind bars, got a life prison sentence reduced to 10 years in exchange for her testimony. She gets out in 2014.
The case triggered a major scandal at Florida’s child-welfare agency because Rilya’s disappearance wasn’t discovered for 15 months. The case led to resignations and the passage of reform laws.
Graham has always maintained her innocence.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson followed the case closely since the beginning.
“Thank God we have justice for Rilya today,” Rep. Wilson said after she heard about the verdict. “Rilya’s body never being found, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Rep. Wilson is not related to the missing foster child, but has served as a voice for Rilya over the last decade.
She said her heart was racing as she waited to find out what the jury decided.
“I’m a little disappointed Mrs. Graham was not [convicted of] murder, but I’m glad she did not get away scot-free,” the Democratic Congresswoman said.
Wilson sat in the courtroom on occasion. Rilya’s sister Brandi Sims also watched from the gallery at times.
Brandi Sims was only 6 years old when her sister disappeared.
The now-18-year-old was not in the courthouse to hear the verdict, but her adoptive father was there.
Despite the mistrial on the murder charge, Reverend Willie Sims called it a victory.
“I’m just elated that justice has prevailed and at least something is being done and that they didn’t completely sweep this under the carpet,” Rev. Sims said.
Rev. Sims said he plans to start an advocacy group for foster children along with his daughter, Brandi.
Sentencing will take place on Tues., Feb. 12th.