Rilya Wilson was a foster child of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the centerpoint of an investigation into neglect and mismanagement in the organization. She was approximately four years old when she disappeared in 2000. DCF did not discover her disappearance until two years later, when she was not found living at the home of caretaker Geralyn Graham. Graham is suspected by prosecutors to have murdered Wilson, but only circumstantial evidence had been presented. Graham was later jailed for identity fraud and Medicaid fraud for accepting payments on behalf of Wilson after she was missing. The two caretakers claimed that a DCF worker had taken the child for medical testing and never returned. Authorities denied that any state worker had ever taken Wilson for medical testing.
In August 2004, Graham was charged with kidnapping and three counts of child abuse, and Kendrick with two lesser counts of child abuse. Kendrick promised to testify against Graham at her trial. She says both of them spanked Rilya with switches, locked her in a dog cage and in the laundry room.
In March 2005, a grand jury indicted Geralyn Graham after she allegedly confessed in detail to inmate Robin Lunceford, who testified at trial over four days. Two other inmates also testified that Graham, while behind bars, suggested she killed the child.
During the trial there was evidence of abuse, including a dog cage witnesses said Graham obtained to punish Rilya and testimony about the girl's lengthy confinement in a small laundry room. Pamela Graham testified that Geralyn Graham regularly tied Rilya to her bed using plastic restraints so she would not get up during the night. Graham alleged that a woman who claimed to work for DCF said she was removing Rilya from the home for evaluation and never returned.
In January 2013, the jury convicted Graham of kidnapping and child abuse, but deadlocked 11 to 1 on the charge of murder.
On February 12, 2013, the judge sentenced Graham to 30 years for kidnapping plus 25 years for aggravated child abuse. Two other abuse sentences – 25 years and five years, respectively – will be served concurrently for a total of 55 years behind bars. Prosecutors had sought the maximum of life plus 65 years. But at 67 years old at the time of sentencing, Graham will end up serving a life sentence.
The case led to the resignation of DCF director Kathleen Kearney and the passage of several reform laws, including a new missing-child-tracking system and the contracting out of foster child casework to private organizations. Lawmakers also made it illegal to falsify records of visits between caseworkers and foster children.
- "'Crisis Mentality' at Families Agency". The New York Times, April 27, 2003.
- "Missing girl's caretakers charged". CNN.com, August 19, 2004.
- "Former Caregiver Charged with Murdering Rilya Wilson". WESH.com, March 17, 2005.
- Ovalle, David. "Geralyn Graham gets 55 years in Rilya Wilson foster child abuse case - Miami-Dade". MiamiHerald.com. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
- "Rilya Shenise Wilson". The Charley Project. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
- "Geralyn Graham Sentenced To 55 Years In Rilya Wilson Case (VIDEO)". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
- Anderson, Curt. "State builds circumstantial case in Rilya Wilson disappearance". The Miami Herald, October 5, 2007.
- "After nearly seven years, Rilya Wilson case unresolved". cbs4.com, October 7, 2007.