Judge denies acquittal in Fla. foster child trial

MIAMI - A judge refused Wednesday to order the acquittal of a woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson despite arguments from defense attorneys that there's no conclusive proof the girl is even dead.
Scott Sakin, one of the attorneys representing 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, contended that a not guilty verdict was legally required because Rilya's remains have never been found, there are no eyewitnesses to a slaying and virtually no forensic evidence exists. Rilya disappeared from Graham's home in 2000.
"There is no direct evidence the child is dead," Sakin said.
The prosecution's main evidence is testimony from three jailhouse snitches that Graham confessed to them behind bars. All three could win sentence reductions or parole because of their cooperation.
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, however, said the inmates' statements and other testimony was enough for the case to go forward.
"The evidence is sufficient to go to the jury," the judge said.
With that, the defense began putting on its case. The prosecution rested Tuesday following five weeks of testimony and the jury could begin deliberations sometime next week.
Graham faces life in prison if convicted of killing Rilya, whose disappearance was not discovered by state officials for some 15 months. That failure led to a high-level shakeup at the state Department of Children and Families and passage of several foster child reform laws, including tighter case worker reporting rules and better tracking of children.
One of the three jailhouse informants, Robin Lunceford, testified that Graham told her she believed Rilya was evil, smothered her with a pillow and disposed of her body in or near water. Another inmate, Ramona Tavia, testified that Graham told her she killed Rilya to protect her live-in lover, Pamela Graham.
The defense questioned Wednesday with how Tavia got into position to hear the purported confession. Graham attorney Michael Matters questioned a jail official about records showing that Tavia and Graham were housed continuously in separate cells during November 2003 when the confession allegedly took place.
Tavia testified that she spent one night in Graham's cell because of an overcrowding problem and that's when Graham tearfully talked about killing Rilya. Although the records did not show a cell change, jail official Rene Villa said under cross-examination that Tavia could still be telling the truth.
"If it was a temporary matter, no cell change would have taken place in the system," Villa said.
Defense attorneys declined comment on whether Geralyn Graham will testify. She has maintained in the past that Rilya was taken from her home by an unknown child welfare worker for mental tests and never returned. Investigators, however, have found no evidence to support that claim.