Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez gave the sentence to Geralyn Graham following her conviction of kidnapping and child abuse in the case of missing foster child Rilya Wilson. Graham briefly addressed the judge. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and Rilya Wilson's older sister, Brandy Sims, spoke about the case.
Geralyn Graham, 67, was sentenced to 30 years on the kidnapping charge, followed by a consecutive term of 25 years for two counts of aggravated child abuse, Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez ruled.
"For you Ms. Graham, the jury has spoken. You have been found to be the person responsible for the senseless, cruel and inhumane acts directed toward this innocent and defenseless child, Rilya Wilson," Tinkler Mendez said. "You are responsible for inflicting unimaginable pain and for instilling fear in this child and for repeatedly abusing this child."
Graham was also sentenced to five years on a child abuse charge, which will run concurrent to the aggravated child abuse sentence.
The sentencing hearing began shortly after 10 a.m., with prosecutors presenting their arguments for why Graham should be given the maximum sentence.
"The acts of this defendant in restraining a child such as Rilya, 4 years old, by tying her to her bed and not allowing her freedom of movement, the act of isolating this child in a darkened laundry room not for hours, or just days but sometimes weeks at a time. The use of a dog cage to additionally punish a child," prosecutor Sally Weintraub said. "All these forms of punishment are the absolute definition of what the law as you set it out for the jurors describes as malicious, hatred, spiteful and evil intent."
Graham's attorney said any sentence in excess of the guideline range would likely result in her dying in prison.
Graham, who appeared in court in an orange prison outfit and used a walker to get around, briefly addressed the judge.
"Despite what you've heard in this courtroom, Rilya is a very special child to me," Graham said. "I miss her and I love her deeply."
Graham said it upset her to know that people thought she was capable of the abuse.
"I only tried to help Rilya. I love her too much to have ever done anything to her," Graham said. "Things have been greatly exaggerated and I've been found guilty by a jury of terrible crimes. I hope to be able to prove my innocence."
Tinkler Mendez said one would have to be "inherently evil" to treat the little girl the way she was treated.
"Rilya Wilson deserved nothing less than a loving, nurturing and caring environment, instead she lived in fear and suffered in a house of torture, torment and abuse," the judge said. "What you have done here is inexcusable."
Graham was found guilty of the two charges last month but jurors couldn't agree on a murder charge, leading to a mistrial on that count. Prosecutors said they wouldn't try Graham a second time on the murder charge.
Graham was accused of killing Rilya, who went missing in late 2000. The girl's disappearance was not discovered for 15 months. That lapse led to high-level resignations at the state Department of Children and Families and passage of child welfare reform laws.
"We can only hope that lessons have been learned and these terrible misdeeds and mistakes are never repeated," Tinkler Mendez said.
Rilya's body has never been found. Graham, who was Rilya's caretaker, has long maintained her innocence and her attorneys said they are planning to appeal the convictions.
"The truth will come out," Graham said at Tuesday's sentencing.
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