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.

Miami woman finally faces trial for killing 5-year-old foster child


MIAMI — More than a decade after foster child Rilya Wilson’s disappearance shook Florida’s child welfare system, the caregiver accused of killing the girl is finally set to go on trial in a highly circumstantial case hinging on jail inmates who say they heard the woman confess.

Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of Geralyn Graham, which is expected to last for about eight weeks.

Graham, 66, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and has written letters to judges insisting she is innocent. She faces life in prison if convicted.

“I’ve never hurt a soul in my life,” she wrote in one letter.

Rilya’s body has never been found. Police have no witnesses to any killing and scant physical evidence. The crux of the case are alleged confessions Graham made to fellow inmates that she killed Rilya and buried her near a lake.

“It is always problematic for the government when it has to build a case on jailhouse snitches,” said Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University who has followed the case over the years. “In the end, the government may lose, particularly if Graham can present a reasonable alternative explanation for Rilya’s disappearance.”

FEW CASEWORKER VISITS

Rilya was born Sept. 29, 1996, to a homeless cocaine addict. The girl’s name was an acronym for “remember I love you always.” She was taken into state custody when she was less than 2 months old.

The girl was last seen in 2001 living in a home shared by Geralyn Graham and Pamela Graham, who are not related. When it was discovered in 2002 that Rilya was no longer living there, the Grahams claimed a Department of Children and Families worker had taken her for medical tests and never returned.

An investigation showed that a DCF caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, did not make required monthly visits to the Grahams’ home for more than a year, even though she was filing reports and telling judges that the girl was fine. Muskelly was eventually placed on five years of probation for pleading guilty to official misconduct for falsifying time sheets.

The case had far broader ramifications, leading to the resignation of then-DCF Director Kathleen Kearney and triggering several reforms, including a new missing child tracking system linked to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. State lawmakers also made it illegal to falsify records of visits between child welfare workers and children in the agency’s care.

In addition, legislators required DCF to contract out casework to private organizations, which experts said has contributed to a 28 percent drop in the overall number of kids in care since Rilya disappeared. The state pays those organizations about a half billion dollars a year.

“That was the event that drove privatization, for all practical purposes, and truly changed case management,” said DCF Secretary David Wilkins.

Caseworkers are now required to visit a child monthly and carry GPS units that stamp a date and location to make sure every child is accounted for. But it was not until July that caseworkers were required to go beyond simply taking a picture at those visits and to get critical updates about how the child is doing in school, whether they have any medical concerns or how they are faring socially in the home.

Former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, who chaired a task force that examined the agency’s failings in Rilya’s case, said the case did lead to important reforms, but problems remain.

In 2011, 10-year-old Nubia Barahona was found dead in her adoptive father’s pickup truck. Subsequent investigation revealed that she was routinely abused and that signs were missed by her caseworkers.

Her adopted parents have pleaded not guilty to murder charges and could get the death penalty if convicted.

“At heart here is people who didn’t want to be bothered by the system. It is beyond a tragic situation,” Lawrence said of both cases. “You still need compassion, decency and common sense.”

SNITCHES HOLD EVIDENCE

In Graham’s case, the star prosecution witness will be Robin Lunceford, a career criminal who had been sentenced to life behind bars before revealing Graham’s purported confession. Lunceford’s sentence was reduced to 10 years after she came forward. She is now scheduled for release in March 2014.

Lunceford told detectives that Graham, whom she had befriended, was talking to her from an adjacent cell and “broke down, said she couldn’t take it anymore, that she had killed the little girl and buried her near her home.”

Lunceford said Graham told her that she smothered Rilya with a pillow because the girl insisted on wearing a Cleopatra costume for Halloween rather than going as an angel.

BRUISES AND SCRATCHES

A second inmate also will testify that Graham confessed to the killing in another conversation.

Other prosecution evidence centers on allegations of abuse, including claims that Graham tied Rilya to a bed or locked her in a small laundry room as punishment for misbehavior. There were also reports by friends and acquaintances that the girl was frequently seen with bruises and scratches.

Michael Grieco, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor now in private practice, said that testimony may help build a circumstantial case against Graham.

“The prosecutors should and will focus on the alleged history of abuse,” he said.

Graham has a long history of fraud and other crimes. When she was arrested, police found that she has used 47 aliases and was carrying 10 different driver’s licenses. That history was missed by a DCF background check.

“Her whole life was a scam. We still don’t know who she was, even after she was fingerprinted,” said retired Miami-Dade Detective Gregory Scott, who was an early investigator in Rilya’s case.

Pamela Graham, who remains charged with child neglect, has been cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify. In sworn statements, she has insisted she does not know what happened to Rilya.

Ultimately, according to Nova law professor Jarvis, the jury will have to be convinced that there’s no other explanation for Rilya’s death in order to convict Graham.

“Other than foul play, is there any reasonable explanation for the missing person’s disappearance?” he asked. “Assuming the answer is no, is there any reasonable doubt that someone other than the accused is the perpetrator?”

Former Foster Parent Indicted on Child Abuse Charges


Police said that Terri Cronin broke a six-week-old baby's arm, and five weeks later fractured the child's skull, causing a brain injury.

Terri Lynn Cronin, 48, of St. Charles County, was indicted Friday at the St. Charles County Courthouse on two counts of child abuse. She alternatively was indicted on two counts of second-degree assault.Credit

A former St. Charles County foster parent was indicted by a St. Charles County grand jury Friday on two counts of child abuse.

Terri Cronin, 48, was indicted on two counts of child abuse. She alternatively has been indicted on two counts of second-degree assault. Cronin's address now is listed as being in Oklahoma.

St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department detectives said Cronin fractured a six-week-old baby’s arm while caring for the child as a foster parent in the 3600 block of Meadowsglen Court in the Harvester area. Cronin told police she slipped while carrying the baby down some stairs.

A St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department statement indicated the injury is incompatible with falling down steps, but is “highly specific for inflicted injuries” to an infant.

Then, on May 27, 2009, Cronin told detectives she slipped down the same steps again, dropping the same baby, who was then 11 weeks old.

The child suffered a depressed skull fracture, severe brain swelling, multiple subdural hemorrhages, a brain contusion, seizures as a result of the brain injury, retinal hemorrhages, a collarbone fracture.

A complete skeletal X-ray revealed the infant also had a broken tibia above his ankle and broken bones in his left wrist.

Foster Parent Charged With Sexual Abuse



ASHLAND, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Kentucky State Police say an Olive Hill man caring for two teens as a foster parent has been arrested on sexual abuse charges.

On Oct. 16, troopers say they received a complaint of sexual abuse involving two juvenile females at a foster home along Grahn Road in Olive Hill.

During the investigation, KSP troopers said they determined 29-year-old James M. Layne had sexual intercourse with two females, ages 14 and 15, that were in his care.

On Oct. 22, Layne was arrested and charged with two counts of sexual abuse.

He is being held in the Carter County Detention Center.

Maryland foster care violence detailed in agency records


Handful of cases among thousands of homes show challenges for families

The boy did not want to take a shower. After being asked to wash up, the 10-year-old began throwing glass cookware in the kitchen, turned on the stove and started a small fire, according to state records. His foster father wound up in the hospital with chest pains.

The violent incident in Wicomico County was one of several detailed in documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun as it investigated foster home violence that gained increased attention after a 2-year-old’s death this summer.

The Sun requested last year’s incident reports for homes under the watch of the state’s three largest social services agencies. The files offer a glimpse into the challenges faced by families who take in children from troubled homes.

The state Department of Human Resources could not immediately provide additional information on the number of violent incidents in foster homes across the state or among the three largest providers

Man guilty of sexual assault upon foster sister


Man guilty of sexual assault upon foster sister

 A 23-year-old man who sexually assaulted his 14-year-old foster sister will wait until Dec. 6 to learn his sentence.

Justice Allison Rothery said evidence from the accused’s girlfriend was “simply untrue,” and did not cast any doubt upon the evidence of the complainant, now 17, whose story was “unmoved” despite “extensive and lengthy” cross-examination.

The girl testified at trial last month that the man, who she considered her brother, touched her and raped her in the basement of the house where they lived on a Saskatoon-area acreage and in a trailer on the property.

When the girl disclosed the abuse to authorities, she was removed from the home and the family with whom she had lived since she was a toddler.

In an interview Monday, the girl, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said the assaults, the changes in her circumstances and stress over the court process contributed to a downward spiral that included running away from foster homes and using alcohol and drugs.

“I’m happy (the court process is) finally over with. It’s been going on too long. In that time it really screwed up my life,” she said.

“Now I’m going to change it around because it’s all over with. I’m going to go to treatment, start school.

 “As soon as I got moved away from the (family) and came to the city, that’s when everything started happening, all the drugs and all the alcohol use. It (was) just so I can forget everything.”

 The girl said she used any drugs offered to her, from marijuana to cocaine and was hooked on crack for a year.

 After repeatedly running away from foster homes, she lived for a time with her biological grandmother, but that relationship failed and she now lives with a friend she considers a sister.

 “It’s not a foster family. It’s just, I call family. It’s a street family,” she said.

 The girl is now pregnant and looking to the future. She hopes to re-establish relationships with her younger siblings, who remain in the home where she was abused.

 The former foster brother is in custody, but the girl still worries about her siblings and is fiercely protective of them.

 “It makes me all sick that my (siblings) are still in that home,” she said.

 She is satisfied with the man’s conviction.

 “It’s good for me. I can move on. I won’t look back,” she said.

 The StarPhoenix