Abused Foster Children Sue Oregon for $8 Million

Two children who suffered abuse in the Gresham foster home that has already led to Oregon’s largest ever child welfare settlement filed lawsuits Thursday against a state agency and their former foster mom.
In May, Oregon paid $3.75 million to the family of then 2-year-old Stephanie Kuntupis, who was shaken so badly by her foster dad, Cesar Cruz-Reyes, in 2005 that she was left blind in one eye and permanently disabled.
Two other foster children were living there that day: a brother and sister listed in the court documents as A.N. and C.N. The suit, filed by Portland attorney Neil Jackson on their behalf, alleges the young boy and girl (now 11 and 8), also were beaten and subjected to harsh conditions. The two suits combined ask for more than $8 million.

The suit—much like the one filed on behalf of Kuntupis—alleges that the Oregon Department of Human Services child welfare workers Patricia Hall-Jones and Daniel Rembert, failed to find Cruz-Reyes’ extended criminal background. The suit also alleges the state failed to follow up with two reports in just six days that the children appeared to be neglected and abused.

C.N., the young sister, had her hair pulled so hard it broke blood vessels in her eyes, bruised her head and face and lead to hair loss, the suit says.

The suits also say the children were “hit on soles of feet, palms of hands and buttocks with a plastic or metal rod; forced to take cold showers; forced to remain on her knees with her hands behind her head for long periods of time; forced face down to the ground with her legs bent back over her shoulders; (and) being locked in the closet for long periods of time.”

Both will need long term therapy to regain trust in others and for other side effects, the suit says.

The children’s suit also goes after the former foster mother, Michele Cruz-Reyes, who has since changed her name to Michele Schmer.
In an odd twist, The Oregonian's Aimee Green reported in May, Schmer became the beneficiary of a record $2.1 million neglect case in Cruz-Reyes 2009 in-custody death while serving a 2.5 year prison sentence for battering Kuntupis.

Cruz-Reyes suffered liver failure due to the side effects of a tuberculosis medication. The newspaper says that medical staff “failed to properly monitor him, ignored his pleas for help when he was so sick he could barely walk and waited days before sending him to Salem Hospital, where he died from side effects of the drug.”

The suit says that Schmer was wrongfully enriched by the settlement, and asks that the money be put into a trust for the children’s care. It also seeks an additional $8.05 million from Schmer.

The children’s attorney did not return a call for comment. Oregon DHS and the state Department of Justice declined to comment. A.N. and C.N., the lawsuit says, now live with adoptive parents in California.

Foster Father Arrested in Infant’s Death

FORT BRAGG—The Fort Bragg police have arrested 38-year-old Wilson Lee Tubbs of Fort Bragg after an investigation revealed that the baby he was taking care of died of shaken baby syndrome.

On Sunday night December 2, Officers responded to the Mendocino Coast Hospital on a report of alleged abuse of a five-month old. Staff from the hospital told the officers that the infant was brought into the hospital in respiratory distress.
The baby also had bruises on her face and skill. REACH Air Medical Service transported the infant to the Oakland Children’s Hospital due to the seriousness of her injuries. Officers interviewed Wilson Tubbs, the child’s foster father, who brought the baby into the hospital.
Tubbs told police that, on the night of December 1, while he was changing the baby’s diaper he stepped away for just a few seconds and went into another room when he heard the cries of the baby. He returned to the room he found the baby lying on the floor with the changing pad on top of her. Tubbs indicated that he thought his large dog might have hit the table causing the baby and the pad to fall to the floor. He stated that the baby received the bump on the forehead from the fall.
The child’s foster mother was out of town on business and was not aware of the incident that occurred that night.
On December 4, police received a call from a child abuse specialist that stated that he had finished the examination on the infant and found two skull fractures with several bruises on the face. The doctor reported that in his opinion that the infant had been physically abused. The doctor went on to say that there was no way that the fall from the changing table caused the injuries.
On December 5, the infant died from her injuries. The Fort Bragg Police Department continued the investigation, now as a homicide case. They requested the assistance of the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Investigation Unit.
On December 8, the District Attorney’s Office re-interviewed Tubbs. Tubbs told investigators “that he was upset over something and began slapping and shaking the infant in a manner that caused the child’s injuries,” Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry said. “We also believe that he has done this on one or more (other) occasions.”
On December 10, Wilson Lee Tubbs was arrested for an assault resulting in a death. He was booked and transported to Mendocino County Jail. He bail as been set at $500,000.

Custodian of missing foster child feared the worst, did nothing when she disappeared in 2000

MIAMI – The legal custodian of missing foster child Rilya Wilson testified Monday that she suspected the worst when the girl abruptly disappeared in late 2000 but did not contact police or child welfare officials because she was afraid of taking the blame.
Pamela Graham, 48, also told jurors she never reported abuse involving the 4-year-old girl — including being tied to a bed with her wrists in plastic restraints — because she feared her live-in lover and the girl's main caretaker, Geralyn Graham, who is on trial for murder in Rilya's disappearance.
Pamela Graham, who is not related to Geralyn although they claimed at times to be sisters, said her companion ran their household and lashed out when her authority was challenged. Pamela Graham, however, had legal custody of Rilya and a younger sister, Rodericka.
"She was always controlling and dominant. I was just afraid her," Pamela Graham testified. Her voice frequently quavered and she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue during much of the daylong testimony.
Geralyn Graham, 66, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, child abuse and kidnapping charges. Pamela Graham made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to child abuse and child neglect charges in return for her testimony, and likely will face no jail time.
An attorney for Geralyn Graham, Scott Sakin, sharply questioned Pamela Graham's credibility on cross-examination because of the lies she told, such as claiming the two were sisters on a job application and inflating her educational achievements on state forms.
"You were already on your road to lies back then, right?" Sakin said. Pamela Graham did not answer after prosecutors objected.
Rilya's body has never been found and Pamela Graham said she does not know what happened to her. The girl's disappearance caused a statewide scandal because child welfare officials did not realize she was missing for some 15 months, eventually leading to changes in monitoring of foster children and other child welfare reforms.
In the fall of 2000, Pamela Graham said the relationship between Rilya and Geralyn Graham was worsening. On Halloween that year, Rilya wasn't allowed to go trick-or-treating because she insisted on wearing a Cleopatra mask instead of the angel costume that had been bought for her. A short time later, Pamela Graham said, there were scrape marks on the sides of Rilya's head where the mask had been glued on and then taken off.
Another time, Pamela Graham said she found Rilya crying in a bathtub of "extremely hot" water. Geralyn Graham told her it was punishment for wetting her bed. The bed restraints, Pamela Graham added, were to prevent Rilya from getting up at night and climbing on kitchen counters to reach sweet treats in a high cabinet.
One day in December of 2000, Pamela Graham returned from work to find Rilya gone. She said Geralyn Graham didn't offer much of an explanation.
"She said (Rilya) wasn't coming back and I wasn't going to see her anymore," Pamela Graham testified. "She just kept telling me Rilya was OK and not to worry. I thought something bad had happened."
She said the two argued heatedly, and at one point that night, she started to call police but did not when Geralyn Graham threatened her with a hammer. Yet Pamela Graham admitted having her own selfish motives for not going to authorities.
"I was scared and I knew that I was the one that had legal custody of her. I was just afraid that whatever happened to her, I would be blamed for," Pamela Graham said. "''It was selfish, I know, thinking about myself instead of her."
Eventually, Geralyn Graham said they would tell anyone who asked that a Department of Children and Families worker had taken Rilya for mental testing and never returned her. To friends, they said she was on a trip to New York. Pamela Graham said none of it was true, but she remained silent for years.
It wasn't until May 2004 that Pamela Graham admitted to a cold case investigator that there were many lies surrounding Rilya's disappearance, including the story about a DCF worker taking the girl away. That was when she began cooperating.
"I was tired of carrying the lies I had previously told," she said.

Settlement reached in ‘house of horrors’ foster abuse case

TACOMA — Six former foster children who said they were sexually and physically abused while in foster care reached a settlement with the Department of Social and Health Services Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in 2011. A settlement of $11 million to resolve both alleged negligence and civil rights abuses was reached.
“We regret that these children suffered at the hands of adults they had trusted to love and keep them safe,” DSHS Children’s Administration Assistant Secretary Denise Revels Robinson said.
The plaintiffs alleged they were abused while in the foster home of Jose and Juanita Mirananda in Tacoma. Attorney Jeremy Johnston said this was not an isolated incident, but that it occurred over a period of years. Johnston’s firm filed the lawsuit in the hope that changes are made at the state level to prevent this from ever happening again, he said.
“As a parent, if you think about the worst things that can happen to your kids, some of those things probably happened in that home,” Johnston said.
Miranda and his wife were foster parents of more than a dozen different children between 1997 and 2005. Johnston called the where the victims lived the “house of horrors.”
“This home should have never received a license,” Johnston said.
Juanita Miranda already had a criminal history that included:
·         Her biological children were removed from her home in California by the state because of her illicit drug use and neglect,
·         The couple was on welfare and disability when applying to become foster parents in Washington in 1997.
“There are lots of things that I think an ordinary person would say, why would you ever give this home, the ability to care for foster kids?” Johnston asked.
Apparently the state continued renewing their license.
Court documents reveal that when the couple reapplied for a license in 2000, it was noted that Juanita had four drug-related charges between 1989-1990. DSHS spokeswoman Chris Chase said the department will use the lesson it learned in the case to improve conditions for foster students moving forward.
“We can’t emphasize enough the importance of family, neighbors and schools in keeping children safe from abuse and neglect,” Chase said. “Public child welfare is a shared responsibility.”

City Settles With Disabled People Fraudulently Adopted in ’90s and Abused

In a 1990s-era case that has been seen as a colossal breakdown in the city’s foster care system, New York City will pay $9.7 million to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 disabled people who were fraudulently adopted as children by a Queens woman more than 15 years ago and were subjected to years of abuse.
The woman, Judith Leekin, 67, was arrested in 2007 in Florida, where she had moved with the children. She was later convicted of fraud and abuse charges and is serving a long prison sentence.
The settlement resolves only claims against the city, which had placed two of the children with Ms. Leekin through a city-run adoption unit. The other eight children were placed with her through three private adoption agencies that had contracts with the city. A lawsuit against those agencies is still pending.
Prosecutors had charged that Ms. Leekin used aliases when adopting the children and collected $1.68 million in subsidies from New York, which she used to support a lavish lifestyle. The children, who had physical or developmental disabilities, including autism and retardation, were restrained with plastic ties and handcuffs, and beaten with sticks and hangers, court papers show.
“Judith Leekin’s extraordinary criminal scheme was unprecedented,” Bruce M. Strikowsky, a lawyer whose firm represented the city, said Thursday. “Though the city had strong legal defenses, this settlement will benefit those harmed most by Leekin — the children she abused. They have been, and continue to be, the city’s primary concern.”
A spokesman for the Administration for Children’s Services added, “There are much more sophisticated systems in place today that would never allow this kind of fraud to be perpetrated on the city or our children.”
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Theodore Babbitt, wrote in a letter to the federal judge overseeing the case, Eric N. Vitaliano, that the settling parties “believe that the settlement is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.” The suit was filed in 2009 and was vigorously contested.
Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Howard M. Talenfeld, said the settlement came at “a crucial time” for the former Leekin children, who are now mostly in their 20s. A few of them, for example, are homeless, he said. Because of the precariousness of the plaintiffs’ situation, Mr. Talenfeld added, trusts or structured settlements will be used, to ensure they “will have resources to protect them in the future.”
The city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, which is described in more than 500 pages of documents filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn. The amount, which was redacted in the court documents, was provided by an official with the city’s Law Department. The official said $6 million was designated for the two plaintiffs whom the city placed directly with Ms. Leekin, in 1988. The remaining funds are to be distributed to the other eight plaintiffs.
All 10 had sued the city for its role in overseeing the system that allowed them to be placed with Ms. Leekin.
After they were removed from Ms. Leekin’s care in 2007, about half of the plaintiffs, none of whom had completed elementary school, were declared “totally incapacitated” or “vulnerable adults,” according to a report by Peg McCartt Hess, a former Columbia University social work professor who was retained by the plaintiffs to review the cases.
The two children whom the city placed with Ms. Leekin are cited in the report as J. G., a man who is now 28, and L. J., a woman who is now 32. J. G. was described as moderately retarded and legally blind when he was removed from the Leekin home; L. J. was found to be retarded and autistic.
The agency defendants are SCO Family of Services, HeartShare Human Services of New York and St. Joseph Services for Children and Families, which is now closed. The city and the agencies had denied liability, arguing that Ms. Leekin’s was a sophisticated fraud that would not have been foreseen or detected, given the capabilities and practices of the time. Lawyers for the agencies did not respond to messages seeking comment on Thursday

Fort Wayne pastor accused of molesting foster child

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - The pastor of a Fort Wayne church was arrested on four felony charges of child molestation on Wednesday.
James Burton, 50, is accused of inappropriately touching a girl who was a foster child in his care. Police said the incident happened between June 2009 and early this year.
Documents said that the girl told a school employee about the molestation. She said it started when she was six or seven years old.
Burton has been a pastor at Greater Faith Baptist Church on East Wayne Street.
Burton's initial hearing will be held Thursday, December 7 at 8:00 a.m.

Candiotti: Foster mom's story 'just didn’t add up'

In 2004, Rilya Wilson's disappearance made national headlines, and CNN's Susan Candiotti sat down with the child's foster mom Geralyn Graham to discuss what happened to the child.
At the time, Graham was not charged in the death of Rilya.
Wilson disappeared more than a decade ago when she was just 4 years old, and Graham is now on trial for first-degree murder.
Candiotti said that Graham's story did not add up in 2004. Graham told Candiotti that an unidentified caseworker took Rilya, and the foster mother insisted that she took good care of the child.
"She was unable to give a description of the people that [supposedly] took the girl away, she didn’t take down their name, had no idea what happened to her … she couldn’t fill out a description," Candiotti said. "Police later found a dog cage [in the home] – they had no dog."
A child welfare worker was supposed to be periodically checking in on the child at the Graham home. However, the caseworker did not check on the child for more than a year and falsified reports that said Rilya was in good condition.
It took authorities more than a year to realize Rilya was missing. Rilya's body has never been found.

I-Team: Family Friend Accused of Beating Foster Child

LAS VEGAS -- The suspect in a horrific child abuse investigation was a family friend of the child's foster mother, Metro Police said.
In early November, Alexander was taken from his parents and placed in foster care. Ten days later, he is in hospital bed with severe injuries that could be permanent. A portion of the boy's skull has been removed and he's suffered strokes and seizures as a result of his brain injuries.
After Alexander was hospitalized, Metro arrested 21-year-old Osbaldo Sanchez on child abuse charges. According to a police report, Alexander's foster mom, Kasondra Martinsen, left him and another foster child alone with Sanchez while she went to work. Sanchez is not an approved caregiver, according to the Clark County Department of Family Services.
In an interview with police, Sanchez allegedly told detectives that Alexander was injured by a fall in the bathroom. The story was contradicted by the other foster child in the home and medical evidence, according to investigators.
"The person who was responsible for the safety and the welfare of this child, the foster mother, made a horrible decision to allow this child to be supervised by someone who was not an appropriate care provider," said Cheryl Kegley, an abuse and neglect specialist for Metro Police.
The police report said Martinson, the foster mother, initially lied to police about what happened to Alexander and about her whereabouts when the incident occurred. The I-Team has been unable to reach her for comment.
Alexander was injured Nov. 10. The Nevada Division of Child and Family Services did not disclose the incident -- as required by law -- until the I-Team starting asking about it. In a written statement, the department pledged to re-educate foster parents about its babysitting policies.
In a statement, the county's Family Services Department said:
"The Department of Family Services conducts a criminal history and background check on all prospective foster parents. We also provide comprehensive training to all foster parents prior to licensure. Our policies and procedures address babysitting and who may or may not provide care for our children. We require that anyone who provides extended babysitting for foster children be approved by the department subsequent to a criminal history and background check review. Our foster parents are educated about who can and cannot provide babysitting services and the processes we use to approve anyone they would like to help care for children.
"In this case, the foster parent was aware of our expectations around who could care for the children placed in her home and chose to disregard them. We cannot condone that behavior. Her license is pending suspension, and no children remain in her care.
"We also will be working to re-educate our foster parents about our babysitting policies and our expectations related to others who care for our children. We believe that the policies and processes we have in place, when followed, protect our children. We know this incident does not characterize the hundreds of caring foster parents in Clark County who have stepped forward to fill a vital role in our community."

LA County to create task force on foster care children recruited into sex trafficking

A new anti-child sex trafficking awareness campaign will hit Metro buses, trains, transit stops and billboards.
Los Angeles County officials want to figure out how and why foster care children end up in the sex trafficking industry.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has asked the Department of Children and Family Services to create a task force that'll examine ways to prevent foster care children from entering into sex trafficking rings.
The county’s probation department found that 174 minors in juvenile custody in 2010 were arrested for prostitution related charges. About 64 percent of them had some previous involvement with DCFS because of child abuse.
“Even more shocking is that pimps are using child sex workers to recruit fellow foster care children at the DCFS Emergency Response Command Post and group homes across the county,” says the motion filed by Antonovich.
The task force would be responsible for collaborating with other county agencies - mental health, probation, law enforcment and the district attorney's office.
It would meet each month and would report back to the Board of Supervisors with recommendations within six months.

A decade after little girl vanished, Rilya Wilson’s foster mom faces trial

12 years ago, a little foster child named Rilya Wilson vanished, never to be seen again. Her state-designated caretaker faces trial on Monday.
For Rilya Wilson’s birthday on Sept. 29, 2005, members of the Joseph Caleb Center’s Head Start program shared a sheet cake with white frosting and pink flowers in an auditorium filled with pink balloons. They blew out nine candles — one for every year that had passed since the pigtailed girl’s birth.
A year later, the date passed with no celebration. The hostess of the unusual parties, then-Florida state Sen. Frederica S. Wilson, had reached the same conclusion as Miami prosecutors: Rilya, the chubby-cheeked foster child who vanished in late 2000 or early 2001, was almost certainly dead.
“That’s when I stopped having birthday parties,” Wilson, now a U.S. congresswoman, said. “I guess I had been hoping so hard.”
Beginning Monday, a Miami-Dade jury will be asked to write the final chapter in a saga that shocked South Florida and raised haunting questions: How did a small child, in the care of a court-appointed guardian, simply disappear? And how could the state’s long-troubled child welfare system not notice?
In a trial that Wilson vows to attend, at least in part, jurors will be asked to decide whether caretaker Geralyn Graham abused and murdered the child over a decade ago.
Rilya’s disappearance — her body has never been found — sparked massive upheaval and reform at the Department of Children & Families, leading to a series of unbridled public hearings, a scathing report, legislative changes and a Miami visit by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Several DCF employees were fired, the top Miami administrator resigned and Secretary Kathleen Kearney left the agency months later. Rilya’s disappearance prompted cries for agency “transparency” more than any tragedy before it — cries that echo today.
It led to a criminal probe that will culminate Monday with opening statements in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Graham, 66, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and multiple counts of child abuse with great bodily harm. She faces life in prison if convicted. Graham, confined in the Miami-Dade jail since October 2002, has long maintained her innocence.
The trial, in front of Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, is expected to last longer than a month.
Without a body, forensic evidence, eyewitnesses or confessions, the state faces unusual challenges. The prosecution’s thrust will likely focus on Graham’s inconsistent accounts of Rilya’s whereabouts — and a jailhouse informant who claims the woman confessed to smothering the child.
Rilya was born to a crack-addicted mother, and by 2000, was living with Graham and her domestic partner, Pamela Graham, under DCF supervision.
Her name was an acronym: Remember I Love You Always.
The agency did not realize the girl had disappeared until April 2002, more than one year after she was last seen. The reason: Her case worker, whose job was to check on the girl regularly, had not bothered to do so — and instead falsified numerous reports.
During a Christmas 2000 get-together at the Graham home, friends wondered about Rilya’s whereabouts. Graham claimed a “Spanish” friend had taken the little girl on a road trip.
When DCF finally became aware that the child wasn’t in the home, Graham claimed that an unidentified worker with the agency — “a tall, heavy-set, light-skinned woman with an accent” — came to pick up Rilya. A second woman came later to retrieve toys and clothes, Graham said.
To find the mystery worker, detectives printed out ID-badge photos of DCF employees to show Graham. Many searches for the girl also fizzled.
As detectives got varying versions of Rilya’s whereabouts from people who had talked to Graham, the case morphed from a missing persons case to a homicide investigation.
Jurors are also likely to hear from two key witnesses, one of them Pamela Graham, no relation.
Pamela Graham told police that Geralyn hit Rilya with switches, confined her to the laundry room and tied her hands to the railing of the child’s bed with plastic “flex cuffs.” A friend of the pair also told investigators that Graham borrowed a dog cage in which she locked Rilya when she misbehaved.
As for the social worker tale, Pamela Graham said Geralyn “concocted the story and advised her whenever anyone inquired about Rilya to just say that DCF took her,” the case’s lead detective said in a deposition.
But Pamela Graham told officials she never knew what happened to Rilya, who would be 16 today. She agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child neglect and serve as a state witness against Geralyn. She has not yet been sentenced.
The other chief witness would be jailhouse informant Robin Lunceford, who claimed Geralyn Graham confessed to her that she smothered the child and dumped the body in a South Miami-Dade canal.
Testimony by jailhouse informants is often of questionable value, but Lunceford’s credibility may be particularly shaky — she also gave information to Miami-Dade prosecutors about fellow inmates in two other high-profile murder cases, but was dropped as a state witness in both cases after she stopped cooperating.
For several years, both Frederica Wilson and Rilya’s younger sister — the congresswoman befriended her after the girl was adopted by a local family — believed Rilya was still alive, somewhere. For Rilya’s sister, Rodericka, it was a childhood act of faith.
For the lawmaker, it was a mixture of both faith and hope: Perhaps Graham, who moved from her modest home into a larger one around the time Rilya vanished, sold the cute little girl for a large sum of money?
But as Graham languished in jail year after year, initially on credit card fraud charges and then on the murder rap, Wilson lost hope. Had the child actually been sold, Graham surely would have said so by now, Wilson reasoned, if only to clear herself of murder charges.
Still, Wilson says, she kept her awful conclusions to herself. “I didn’t have the heart to tell [Rodericka]; no, I didn’t think Rilya was alive.”
To this day, Wilson keeps pictures of the lost little girl in her office. Visitors ask if the child is hers. “I never had anything affect me the way the disappearance of Rilya affected my life,” the lawmaker said. “It just torments me.”
The child’s disappearance affected many that way, and some say, led to significant changes in the way Florida protects children.
Social workers across the nation still study the case as a cautionary tale for what not to do in child protection.
“Rilya Wilson was a turning point in child welfare,” former DCF Secretary George Sheldon, now an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Herald two years ago.
In the wake of Rilya’s disappearance, child welfare administrators developed a real-time system for tracking and reporting on missing children, created a specialized missing-kids unit at DCF headquarters in Tallahassee, beefed up requirements for case workers (including mandatory foster home visits every 30 days), and implemented fingerprinting and photographs for all children entering foster care. While in the Legislature, Frederica Wilson passed a law requiring youngsters in foster care to be in daycare to increase their community visibility, and lawmakers made it a crime to falsify child welfare records.
The statewide advocacy group Florida’s Children First — which included a large group of lawyers and children’s advocates — also formed in the scandal’s aftermath, and Coral Springs attorney Andrea Moore became the group’s second director.
“Child advocates from all over the state felt we needed to do something. We could not have any more Bradleys or Kaylas or Rilyas. It had to stop,” said Moore, referring to Bradley McGee, who was fatally plunged head-first into a toilet for soiling himself after being returned by the state to abusive parents, and Kayla McKean, whose father beat her to death following multiple reports from teachers that her dad was horribly abusing her.
In the succeeding years, the state has been racked by new tragedies: Gabriel Myers, who hanged himself in 2007 at a Broward foster home, and Nubia Barahona, whose adopted parents are charged with torturing and killing her following multiple reports to the state that her life was in danger — both of which also sparked statewide hearings and hand-wringing reports.
“Advocates get tired,” said Moore, who retired from the group after five years. “It’s such an uphill battle.”

Prosecutor: Fla. woman smothered foster child

MIAMI (AP) — A South Florida prosecutor says a woman smothered foster child Rilya Wilson a decade ago after months of abuse and elaborately covered up her disappearance until confessing to fellow jail inmates.
Prosecutor Joshua Weintraub urged jurors in an opening statement Monday to convict 66-year-old Geralyn Graham of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse. Graham has pleaded innocent and faces a potential life sentence if convicted. Trial will last several weeks.
Rilya's body has never been found. The two jail inmates who claim Graham confessed are key to the state's case.
The discovery of Rilya's disappearance in 2002 led to a shakeup at the state child protection agency because caseworkers were unaware the girl hadn't been seen in months. The case also led to greater privatization of programs for foster children.

Task Force to Combat Pimps Recruiting Child Sex Slaves from Foster Homes

 The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today approved the creation of a task force to address the grave issue of children in the county's foster care system being recruited as child prostitutes.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich, citing sources from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, said that "the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and the average life expectancy following entry is seven years," according to City News Service. Antonovich added, "These children often come from broken homes with a history of neglect and abuse, and foster children often overlap with runaway and homeless youth with a lack of resources that makes them more vulnerable."
Among other statistics, Antonovich noted that 174 children under the age of 18 were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in L.A. County in 2010. Some of those children were under the care of the Department of Children and Family Services emergency center when they were recruited by pimps. Other recruits came from group homes.
Voters approved Proposition 35 earlier this month, which "increases prison terms for human traffickers, requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandates training for law enforcement officers and requires criminal fines to help victims," says CNS.
Earlier this year, the L.A. County Probation Department was awarded a $1 million grant to actively combat the issue.
Today's approval mandates the DCFS to team up with the Probation Department, District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Mental Health to develop additional methods for battling child sex trafficking.

No mistrial in Fla. foster child slaying

MIAMI (AP) — A judge refused Tuesday to grant a mistrial in the case of a woman accused of killing a young foster child even though a prosecutor's law license had been suspended for months before the trial began.
Joshua Weintraub, the prosecutor who gave the opening statement in the trial of 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, was notified in August by the Florida Bar that his license to practice law was suspended because he failed to properly record continuing legal education requirements. Nonetheless, Weintraub participated in numerous hearings, depositions, jury selection and the trial's opening this week.
Graham attorney Michael Matters said the issue was much more than an oversight.
"This is absolutely inappropriate, unethical and wrong," Matters said. "There is no justification for someone practicing law without a license."
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez, however, said previous court rulings have made clear that clerical mistakes such as Weintraub's were not the kind of law-license suspension that could prejudice a defendant such as Graham. The judge called it a "ministerial circumstance" and noted that Weintraub had actually earned more than the necessary 30 hours of education credits.
"Once the hours were properly documented to the Bar, he was immediately reinstated and the suspension was lifted," Tinkler-Mendez said.
The office of Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday that the problem was technical in nature and involved a failure to record legal education course numbers with the Bar. Don Horn, a chief assistant in Rundle's office, said the issue was quickly remedied after it surfaced.
"He is, in fact, eligible to practice law in Florida," Horn said.
Prior to the ruling, the trial had proceeded Tuesday with Weintraub sitting at the prosecution table along with his mother, fellow prosecutor Sally Weintraub. They declined comment on the license suspension.
Horn said the issue only came to light after a Miami Herald reader self-identified as "Bambi" posted a comment about Weintraub's law-license status on the newspaper's website. Horn said he immediately took Weintraub off the case until the matter was cleared up Tuesday morning.
Graham faces a potential life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse in the case of foster child Rilya Wilson, who was discovered missing a decade ago and whose body has never been found. Graham insists she is innocent and has claimed that a state Department of Children and Families worker took the child for tests and never returned.
The defense's opening statement focused on the lack of a body and suggested that Rilya, who would be 16 now, might still be alive.
The state's case hinges largely on the testimony of jailhouse snitches who claim that Graham confessed to killing Rilya in conversations with them.
In testimony Tuesday, Graham friend Lilly Mae Tuff said she thought Rilya was an unusually quiet child and that she was frequently in "time out" for what Graham said was bad behavior. She said she also saw Rilya once being punished in a bathtub by having her mouth washed out with Listerine.
"She was upset," Tuff said of Rilya. "I just walked away. I didn't like it

Trial witness: Foster mom put girl in dog cage

A friend of Geralyn Graham told police that Graham put her foster child Rilya Wilson in a dog cage as punishment one time.
Testimony in Graham’s trial for Wilson’s murder was delayed Wednesday afternoon as attorneys argued over whether prosecutors could use Detra Winfield’s statement about the dog cage to refresh Winfield’s memory, reports CBS Miami.
Judge Maris Tinkler-Mendez ruled that prosecutors could use the statement.
Another friend of Graham’s testified Wednesday the former foster mom always seemed to be punishing Wilson. Laquica Tuff testified at Graham’s trial Wednesday and told the jury Wilson was reserved and shy.
She testified that Wilson always had some sort of injury. “There were scrapes on her arms. There was a gash on her head,” said Tuff, reports CBS Miami. But Tuff said Graham made excuses, blaming scrapes and gashes on Wilson's clumsiness.
Read more: 10 years later, justice due for missing foster child
Wilson disappeared more than a decade ago when she was just 4 years old, and Graham is now on trial for her death.
“She said it was not enough money to take care of Rilya, it wasn’t worth it,” Tuff told the jury.
Prosecutors are charging Graham with first-degree murder. They say Graham believed Wilson was evil and possessed by demons.
In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Scott Sakin questioned whether the girl is actually dead. Sakin also proposed that Wilson was placed in another home and not properly documented, shifting some of the blame onto the state's Department of Children and Families, saying it had a history of ineptitude.
It took more than a year for the state's welfare agency to realize Wilson was missing. A case worker had been filing false reports that the little girl was in good condition, and authorities didn’t discover she was missing until 2002.
Rilya Wilson’s disappearance led to major overhauls in the DCF after it was revealed that a caseworker was falsifying reports and administrators took little action.
Investigators believe she went missing in late 2000. Rilya's remains have never been found.

County Foster Kids Recruited as Child Prostitutes

A chilling report says foster children averaging 12-years-old are being recruited from group homes for sex trade. The average life expectancy for these child prostitutes is 18.
Some children in the county's foster care system are being recruited as child prostitutes from emergency shelters or group homes, members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors acknowledged Tuesday.
And of youth arrested on prostitution charges in Los Angeles County, a majority comes from the county's foster care system, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing county officials. The newspaper said that, according to the county, "in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents."
``The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and the
average life expectancy following entry is seven years,'' said Supervisor
Michael Antonovich, citing sources from the U.S. Department of Justice and the
How youth in county foster care, particularly in the emergency shelter, would be able to leave the shelter was not immediately clear. But as the accompanying video shows, the typical approach to young girls is to shower them with attention gifts, and a recruiter or pimp can earn up to $140,000 per child.
The issue of foster children being ensnared into the sex trade is not only a local problem. The National Foster Care Coalition is seeking $5 million to counter the preying on vulnerable foster children, who have double the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as do veterans, according to the coalition.
Proposition 35, approved by voters earlier this month, increases prison terms for human traffickers, requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandates training for law enforcement officers and requires criminal fines to help victims.
Supervisor Knabe has also backed initiatives by the county's Probation Department to fight child prostitution and thrown his support behind an ad campaign designed to raise awareness of the issue.
But Antonovich said he was especially concerned about children in the county's foster care system.
``These children often come from broken homes with a history of neglect and abuse, and foster children often overlap with runaway and homeless youth with a lack of resources that makes them more vulnerable,'' Antonovich said.
In 2010, 174 children under the age of 18 were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in the county, according to Antonovich. The accompanying video says they are all girls. He said pimps were recruiting foster care children at the DCFS emergency center and from group homes across the county.
The board directed the Department of Children and Family Services to collaborate with the Probation Department, District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Mental Health to find additional ways to combat the problem.
In the YouTube with this story, which was made as part of an anti-child-sex-trade ad campaign, an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy named Jeff said:
"It's a whole new level of depravity when some guy says, 'You know what? I got a job for you .... and walks her into this life." The deputy tells the videographer that 98% of juveniles in the sex trade have pimps."

Prosecutors bring cage to foster mom murder trial

Prosecutors say Geralyn Graham was an abusive foster mother who used a dog cage as a disciplinary tool. And they brought that cage into court Wednesday so the jury could see where Rilya Wilson had to serve her punishment.
Laquica Tuff, who was a friend of Graham’s, testified that the former foster mom always seemed to be punishing Wilson and the child always had some sort of injury, reports HLN affiliate WSVN. “There were scrapes on her arms. There was a gash on her head.” But Tuff said Graham made excuses, blaming scrapes and gashes on Wilson's clumsiness.
Read more: 10 years later, justice due for missing foster child
Wilson disappeared more than a decade ago when she was just 4 years old, and Graham is now on trial for her death.
Prosecutors are charging Graham with first-degree murder. They say Graham believed Wilson was evil and possessed by demons.
In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Scott Sakin questioned whether the girl is actually dead. Sakin also proposed that Wilson was placed in another home and not properly documented, shifting some of the blame onto the state's Department of Children and Families, saying it had a history of ineptitude.
It took more than a year for the state's welfare agency to realize Wilson was missing. A case worker had been filing false reports that the little girl was in good condition, and authorities didn’t discover she was missing until 2002.
Rilya Wilson’s disappearance led to major overhauls in the DCF after it was revealed that a caseworker was falsifying reports and administrators took little action.
Investigators believe she went missing in late 2000. Rilya's remains have never been found.

Trial in Foster Care Disappearance Case Starts

MIAMI | The foster parent of 4-year-old Rilya Wilson abused the girl for months before finally smothering her, and then lied to child welfare workers who failed to discover the girl had been missing for more than a year, a prosecutor said Monday.
Rilya's case led to new laws and a massive shake-up at Florida's child welfare agency after she vanished in 2000. Authorities long suspected caretaker Geralyn Graham in Rilya's disappearance, but didn't charge her until 2005 when prosecutors said she confessed to an inmate while serving time on an unrelated fraud charge.
Graham is on trial for first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse. She faces life in prison if convicted.
Graham's lawyer raised the possibility that Rilya could still be alive because her body has not been found. Scott Sakin suggested Rilya could have been relocated to a new home and lost in a system that has a history of caseworker incompetence.
Sakin also reminded jurors that jailhouse snitches have much to gain for helping out prosecutors.
"Is there any evidence at all that this child is dead?" Sakin said. "Where is the body? We don't have to prove that she's alive. They have to prove that this child is dead."
Prosecutors said Graham confessed to killing Rilya, who would be 16 now, because she believed the girl was evil and possessed by demons. Other witnesses will testify that Graham repeatedly lied about the girl's whereabouts after she disappeared, Assistant State Joshua Weintraub said.
"She snuffed the life out of this child," said Weintraub, holding a large photo of the smiling 4-year-old. He added that Rilya was frequently punished harshly, including being kept in a dog cage and tied to a bed with plastic restraints.
"Rilya was always in timeout. Always being punished," Weintraub said.
Graham, 66, uses a walker to move around in court. She has long insisted she is innocent and claimed a Department of Children and Families worker took Rilya from her Miami-area home one day and never returned the girl.
Rilya and a younger sister were both given over to state care because their drug-addicted, frequently homeless mother could not care for them.
Rilya's name is an acronym for "remember I love you always" given by her birth mother.
The girl's disappearance led to resignations at DCF, including several high-level positions, when it was discovered that a caseworker was falsifying reports about the girl's well-being and that supervisors took little action. The case also led to a new missing child tracking system in Florida, approval of a privatized system of child casework and tougher laws against falsifying child welfare reports.
One now-retired DCF supervisor, Willie Harris, testified that in April 2000 he received a call from Graham claiming Rilya's first foster home was "deplorable" and might be unsafe.
Rilya's younger sister was living with Graham and her unrelated companion, Pamela Graham, and Rilya had recently visited their house.
Harris said he decided to remove Rilya from the first foster home when he was denied access to investigate its condition. He took the girl to the Grahams' home.
"I thought it would be necessary to remove the child because I couldn't prove whether she was at risk or not at risk," Harris testified.
Pamela Graham also is expected to testify in a plea deal with prosecutors that will likely allow her to avoid jail.
The key to the case, both sides agree, is the testimony of career criminal Robin Lunceford, who befriended Graham in jail. Lunceford claims that Graham, referring to Rilya as "it," told her she smothered the girl with a pillow and buried the remains near water "because water represented peace," Weintraub told jurors. Another inmate also claims that Graham confessed at a different time.
Weintraub said Lunceford was reluctant to snitch but "couldn't stomach" knowing about the death of a child.
"If you tell me you killed an innocent child, I'm going to snitch, and I'm going to snitch proud. Because it's different," Weintraub quoted Lunceford as telling detectives.
Lunceford had been facing a life sentence as a repeat offender but has had her sentence reduced to 10 years because of her cooperation, court records show. With time off for good behavior, she could be released by the end of December, Sakin pointed out.
"She's a rat," Sakin said. "Robin Lunceford would do anything, anything, to get out of prison."
The trial is expected to last about five weeks. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who was deeply involved in the case as a state legislator, attended the start. The Democratic congresswoman is not related to Rilya.

LA Teen Prostitutes Come From Foster Homes A Majority Of The Time, County Says

LA Teen Prostitutes Come From Foster Homes A Majority Of The Time, County Says

The majority of young people arrested on prostitution charges in LA County come from the county's own foster care system, according to county officials.
Even more shocking, pimps use child sex workers to recruit fellow foster care children who are currently living in shelters and foster homes.
This is according to Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who introduced a motion to establish a task force to investigate sex trafficking in the foster care system. The LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion Tuesday.
Antonovich's motion reports that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old and that the average life expectancy following entry is seven years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI.
Earlier this month, Californians overwhelmingly voted to support Proposition 35, or the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act. The proposition strengthens penalties against human traffickers and decriminalizes prostitution for minors. But decriminalization means a shift of responsibility towards the county Department of Children and Family Services -- a responsibility that the department says it's unprepared to handle.
The department cannot prevent children from running away, and many young sex workers fear they will be punished by their pimps if they don't run away from their homes, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The video above tells the stories of young girls who fell victim to sex trafficking in LA and exposes the kind of tactics the pimps use. The video was released over the summer by LA County Supervisor Don Knabe as a part of a county-wide anti-child sex trafficking campaign.

A former director of a St. Louis-area children's service agency has been sentenced

CLAYTON, Mo. — A former director of a St. Louis-area children's service agency has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for sodomizing a foster child who lived with him.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/SVpKeL ) reports that 45-year-old Kevin Thompson of Hazelwood was sentenced Thursday. He was found guilty of 11 counts of second-degree statutory sodomy in August.
The crimes happened in 2009. Prosecutors said Thompson met the 16-year-old boy through Thompson's work at Good Shepherd Children and Family Services in University City. Good Shepherd provides adoption services for older children in foster care.

Calf. Judge sentences 70-year-old to four years in prison for molesting teen in foster care

Robert Buechner, 70, a former teacher’s aide at Ramona High School, was sentenced Nov. 7 to four years and four months in state prison after he pleaded guilty to molesting a teen-age boy in Chula Vista.
Buechner had been free on $250,000 bond, but the Ramona man was remanded into custody at the conclusion of his sentencing by Chula Vista Superior Court Judge Kathleen Lewis.
His attorney, Ryan Tegnelia, asked the judge for a one year term while Deputy District Attorney Karra Reedy sought the sentence he received. Lewis gave him credit for 13 days previously spent in jail and fined him $3,064.
Lewis said the “aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors,” such as his age and lack of a prior record. Buechner resigned his job at Ramona High School just before his arrest in March. The case doesn’t affect any students in Ramona.
A relative of the victim lives in Ramona, and Buechner met the 14-year-old boy through the relative, according to his probation report.
The boy’s father had died when he was 8 years old and his mother was committed to a mental hospital because she suffered from schizophrenia. The boy had been placed in foster care and had been molested before by others, according to the report.
“This was a very vulnerable victim. This was a 14-year-old damaged boy in foster care,” said Reedy. “He knew better. The defendant…abused a position of trust.”
Reedy said Buechner told a probation officer “I don’t blame him at all” regarding the victim’s accusation, but she said such a comment doesn’t show remorse.
Lewis said Buechner molested him on field trips and in unspecified rooms in Chula Vista where the boy was living. The judge said Buechner showed “lack of insight into his devious behavior.”
“He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life,” said Lewis.
The judge noted that Buechner “acknowledged wrongdoing” early in his case by pleading guilty, and the boy, now 15, did not have to testify. Buechner wrote a letter of apology to the boy’s relatives.
“Mr. Buechner has been a law-abiding citizen for a very long time,” said his attorney.
Tegnelia said Buechner has performed community service and had “an unbroken work record.” He said no such accusation ever occurred during his 30 years in education.
Buechner pleaded guilty in June to committing three counts of oral copulation and lewd conduct with a minor. Probation was ruled out as part of the plea agreement.
Buechner taught catechism classes at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Ramona and has been married for over 40 years with adult children, according to the report. He came to court with two relatives.

Trial Begins in Killing of Foster Child Rilya Wilson

On November 5, 2012, jury selection began in the trial of Geralyn Graham, 66, for the murder of foster child Rilya Wilson who disappeared a decade ago in Florida and whose body has never been found.
Geralyn has been charged with first-degree murder. She has also been charged with kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. She has pled not guilty to all charges. If convicted of first-degree murder, she could be sentenced to life in prison.
Even as she awaits trial for alleged crimes against Rilya, Geralyn is serving a three-year prison sentence for convictions on unrelated fraud charges.
The case against Geralyn is heavily circumstantial and relies to a large extent on confessions she is alleged to have made to jailhouse informants. “It is always problematic for the government when it has to build a case on jailhouse snitches,” observes Nova Southeastern University law professor Robert Jarvis who has closely followed this case. “In the end, the government may lose, particularly if Graham can present a reasonable alternative explanation for Rilya’s disappearance.”
The sad life of Rilya Wilson began when she was born on September 29, 1996 to a homeless cocaine addict. Her mother named her “Rilya” because the letters form the acronym for “remember I love you always.”
The state took custody of Rilya when she was only two months old and terminated the parental rights of her mother.
In 2001, the four-year-old child was placed with foster caregiver Pamela Graham who shared a home with Geralyn Graham (they are not related.) The charge of kidnapping against Geralyn is based on the allegation that she removed Rilya from Pamela’s physical custody. The aggravated child abuse charge alleges that Geralyn punished Rilya by locking her in a cage and in a small laundry room as well as by tying her to a bed. Neighbors have also reported that Rilya frequently had bruises and scratches.
A new Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) caseworker was assigned to Rilya in 2002 and discovered that Rilya was no longer at the home of the two Grahams. Both Geralyn and Pamela said a Department of Children and Families worker had taken Rilya for a medical examination in January 2001 but never brought her back. They could give no reasonable explanation for why they did not ask the DCF to return her from the supposed medical examination.
The DCF has no record of any such worker being sent to the home or of Rilya being scheduled for any medical examination.
Investigators learned that the DCF caseworker previously assigned to Rilya, Deborah Muskelly, had failed to make required monthly visits to the child for fifteen months. During that time, Muskelly filed reports and told judges Rilya was well. The DCF has said that Muskelly misled the agency into believing that she was checking up on Rilya which is why the DCF failed to realize that the child’s was missing for such a long time.
Muskelly pled guilty to official misconduct for turning in false time sheets. She was placed on five years’ probation.
Rilya’s disappearance triggered a scandal that led then-DCF Director Kathleen Kearney to resign and even became an issue in Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s 2002 re-election campaign.
The scandal also launched several important reforms. One was the installation of a new missing child tracking system connected to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Another was a law the state passed specifically making it a crime to falsify records of visits between child welfare workers and children under DCF supervision. Still another reform was the new DCF requirement that caseworkers not only visit a child assigned to them every month but must carry GPS units that stamp a date and location to ensure that each child is accounted for. Former DCF Secretary Lucy Hadi has commented, “Significant changes have been set in place including the requirement for monthly visitation of 100 percent of all children placed in foster care and other procedures that protect child welfare.” Current DCF Secretary David Wilkins asserts that Rilya’s tragedy “truly changed case management.”
In July 2011, the DCF went even further, making it mandatory for caseworkers to not only take a picture at their visits but also demand updates about the child’s life at school and in the home and to learn about any medical issues the child may have.
Without Rilya’s body, a recorded or written confession or witnesses to a killing and having very little physical evidence, the case against Geralyn depends heavily on star prosecution witness Robin Lunceford, a career criminal serving a life sentence before telling authorities about what she described as Geralyn’s confession. Lunceford’s cooperation with the authorities led to her sentence being reduced to ten years. She is scheduled for release in March 2014. The defense is likely to suggest Lunceford fabricated for her own gain the story of Geralyn’s confession.
That story is both dismaying and heartbreaking. Lunceford claims that Geralyn was in an adjacent jail cell when she burst into tears. According to Lunceford, Geralyn then said she “couldn’t take it anymore” but had to unburden herself of the crime. Lunceford says Geralyn admitted smothering Rilya with a pillow and then burying her dead body close to the Geralyn home. In Lunceford’s telling, the jaw-droppingly bizarre reason for Geralyn’s homicidal fury was that little Rilya wanted to wear a Cleopatra costume on Halloween instead of going out dressed as an angel as Geralyn preferred.
A second jailhouse informant will testify that Geralyn confessed in a separate conversation to killing Rilya.
Geralyn’s defense attorney Brian Tannebaum asserts, “If the evidence is a jailhouse snitch, I don’t think that says much for the state’s case.” He elaborates that the state has “made it clear from the beginning that their goal is to keep Geralyn Graham in jail for the rest of her life.”
An article for CBS Miami reports, “Last September, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez denied defense motions seeking to toss out a purported confession by Graham because she did not have a lawyer present when she reportedly made the statements. Judge Tinkler-Mendez also ruled that she will allow statements Graham made to a police detective.”
Prosecutors are also likely to focus on Geralyn’s character to support the contention that she murdered Rilya. Geralyn has an extensive history of convictions for fraud and other crimes. As a Sun Sentinel article reports, “When she was arrested, police found that she has used 47 aliases and was carrying 10 different driver’s licenses.”
Incredibly, that history was missed by the DCF background check.
Miami-Dade Detective Gregory Scott, who retired in 2004 but was an investigator in the Rilya Wilson case, commented of Geralyn, “Her whole life was a scam. We still don’t know who she was even after she was fingerprinted.”
Pamela Graham has been charged with child neglect. She made a plea deal with the prosecution and is expected to testify against Geralyn. Pamela claims she has no idea what became of Rilya.
Law professor Jarvis believes that the prosecution must be able to rule out alternative theories for Rilya’s disappearance to get a conviction. “Other than foul play, is there any reasonable explanation for the missing person’s disappearance?” he asks. “Assuming the answer is ‘no.’ is there any reasonable doubt that someone other than the accused is the perpetrator?”
The CBS Miami article previously quoted also states, “Jury selection is expected to last about two months.”
Geralyn adamantly insists that she is innocent of any wrong doing toward Rilya. Indeed, Geralyn has written several letters to local judges saying that she is not responsible for the child’s disappearance. In one such letter, she wrote, “I’ve never hurt a soul in my life.”
The jury that is currently being impaneled must determine the truth or falsity of that assertion.