Rilya Wilson

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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.[1] 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 and alleged godmother or grandmother, Geralyn Graham. Rilya was placed into her care by DCF after Rilya’s cocaine-abusing mother, Gloria Wilson, had her parental rights terminated. Despite varying accusations regarding Rilya's parentage and how she came to be in Graham’s care, the true relationship between the two is unclear.

The last recorded welfare check of Rilya was early in January 2001 by social worker Deborah Muskelly. Graham initially told investigators that on January 18, 2001, an unidentified African-American woman claiming to work for DCF took Rilya for an unspecified evaluation; this was the last time she supposedly saw Rilya. Despite this, Graham continued to cash checks from the state of Florida for Rilya’s care. She further claimed that Muskelly was aware of Rilya’s disappearance. Graham was later jailed for identity fraud and Medicaid fraud for accepting payments on behalf of Wilson after she was missing.[2] Authorities denied that any state worker had ever taken Wilson for medical testing.[3] They claimed to have first learned of Rilya’s disappearance on April 25, 2002, the date she was officially reported missing. In March of 2002, Muskelly and her superviser resigned after allegations of fraud surfaced. She faced 41 criminal charges regarding her time with DCF, including grand theft. Muskelly pled guilty to one count of official misconduct, and was given five years probation; the remaining charges were dropped. She never faced charges directly relating to Rilya’s disappearance.[4]

Manville Cash, a man currently incarcerated for automobile theft and drug charges, came forward with his claim of being Rilya’s father in early 2002. He was listed as the girl’s “prospective father” on documents terminating Gloria's parental rights. Cash told authorities he last saw Rilya at the home of Pamela Kendrick. Kendrick, who is Cash’s aunt and sometimes mistakenly referred to as Graham’s sister, briefly had custody of Rilya in 2000 before she was removed amid allegations of neglect.[5]

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. In her testimony, Lunceford revealed that Graham admitted to killing Rilya because the child was “evil” and was plagued by “demons” from previous abuse. Rilya’s body was supposedly buried in a ravine close by a place Graham regularly visited for fishing and cookouts.[6] Two other inmates also testified that Graham, while behind bars, suggested she killed the child.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "'Crisis Mentality' at Families Agency". The New York Times, April 27, 2003.
  2. ^ "Missing girl's caretakers charged". CNN.com, August 19, 2004.
  3. ^ "Former Caregiver Charged with Murdering Rilya Wilson". WESH.com, March 17, 2005.
  4. ^ [1]. "The Charley Project", October 12, 2004.
  5. ^ [2]. "The Charley Project", October 12, 2004.
  6. ^ [3]. "The Charley Project", October 12, 2004.
  7. ^ Ovalle, David. "Geralyn Graham gets 55 years in Rilya Wilson foster child abuse case - Miami-Dade". MiamiHerald.com. Retrieved 2014-04-05. 
  8. ^ "Rilya Shenise Wilson". The Charley Project. Retrieved 2014-04-05. 
  9. ^ a b "Geralyn Graham Sentenced To 55 Years In Rilya Wilson Case (VIDEO)". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2014-04-05. 

References[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]