A South Florida woman was convicted Friday of kidnapping and child abuse in the case of 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson, but the jurors couldn't agree on a murder charge, which led to a mistrial on that count.
The 12-person jury said they were unable to resolve their 11-1 split on whether 67-year-old Geralyn Graham killed Wilson, and they couldn't agree after more than two days of deliberations.
"I have to thank God the criminal jury systems worked today, that we had a juror who withstood and listened to the evidence and put the state to the test, they did not prove murder beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt," defense attorney Michael Matters said.
The first-degree murder charge carried a potential life sentence, while the charges on which Graham was convicted carry potential sentences of at least 30 years behind bars.
She was convicted of kidnapping and three child abuse counts following an eight-week trial.
Graham showed no emotion as the verdict and mistrial were announced. Meanwhile, three jurors wept.
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.
Rilya's body has never been found.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Rilya "was too often abused and forgotten" during her life.
"No child should ever be treated as she was. The dedicated prosecutorial team of Sally Weintraub, Joshua Weintraub, Fariba Komeily and David Gilbert spent a decade on a journey in search of justice to ensure that her pain and suffering would never be forgotten," Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "Today, she received a measure of that justice."
Assistant State Attorney Joshua Weintraub said the state would not try Graham a second time on the murder charge.
"I think justice can be served in different ways, and the fact that the jury worked very hard and didn't come back on the murder verdict shows the difficulty of this prosecution from day one," Weintraub said. "However, the guilty on kidnapping and aggravated child abuse insures that this woman who's responsible for the murder of Rilya Wilson will never get out of state prison."
Graham, who was Rilya's caretaker, has long maintained her innocence.
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez set sentencing for Feb. 12. Graham's attorneys said they planned an appeal.
Prosecutors relied heavily on testimony by three jailhouse informants who said Graham confessed to them behind bars.
"We thank them very much, and whether the defense wants to call them snitches and rats, we call them good citizens," prosecutor Weintraub said.
Mendez talked to the jury after the verdicts were read.
“It’s been a long road," Mendez said. "What you have done as members of our community, the work that you have done here and over the course of the last several months has been remarkable."
She added they had made more than a tremendous effort and commitment for the judicial system, and should be very proud of what they had done.
"The sacrifices that all of you have made over the course of the last few months are immeasurable," she said. "The time away from your families, from your work, from your personal lives – beyond comparison to anything, anything that I have seen as a judge for the years I’ve been on the bench."
On Thursday, jurors had been sent home after they failed to reach a verdict during the long first day of deliberations. They told Mendez that they were hung on Graham's murder charge by an 11-1 vote. Jurors said in a note that they had agreed on the other four counts.
On Friday, jurors again sent a note to the judge that they remained deadlocked on the murder count. Mendez told them to go back and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
More Local Stories:
- Victim Randomly Shot on Bus Bench in Miami Gardens
- Debate Over Proposed Assault Weapons Ban
- Woman Shot During Robbery in Miami