At first, Geralyn Graham had nothing but hugs and affection for chubby cheeked foster child Rilya Wilson.
But within a few weeks, Geralyn grew increasingly exasperated with the child’s unruly behavior, the woman’s emotional ex-lover told jurors Monday.
Geralyn confined the 4-year-old foster girl to a small laundry room in their Kendall home, sometimes for days. At night, Geralyn kept Rilya tied to her bed by the wrists to keep her from climbing on furniture.
To punish the girl for wetting the bed, Geralyn once even dipped the girl into scalding bathtub water, Pamela Graham told jurors Monday.
And through it all, Pamela — the girl’s legal custodian — testified tearfully that she did nothing to help the girl, cowed by the domineering personality of a woman 18 years her senior. In the end, Pamela spent years repeating lies Geralyn spun about how Rilya vanished in 2000, she said.
“It’s not something I’m proud of, but at that point in my life, I was weak,” said Pamela Graham, who is not related to Geralyn.
“I just did not like confrontation. I knew the defendant. She just controlled every aspect of my life. It wasn’t that Rilya wasn’t worth it.”
Pamela’s testimony Monday against her former domestic partner was highly anticipated. On the stand, Pamela, 48, appeared a scared and pathetic figure, sobbing frequently in explaining how she felt “like a child” in trying to stand up to Geralyn.
Geralyn, 66, is on trial for the death of the foster child whose disappearance a decade ago roiled the state’s child welfare agency and led to a series of reforms. Rilya’s body has never been found.
Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated child abuse, Geralyn Graham faces life in prison if convicted.
Born to a drug-addicted woman, Rilya was under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families nearly her entire life. In 2000, the agency placed her in the Grahams’ home.
Because a case worker failed to properly supervise the child for more than a year, DCF did not realize Rilya was missing until April 2002. Geralyn has long insisted that a DCF employee, in January 2001, whisked Rilya away for mental health treatment, never to return.
Graham was not indicted for murder until 2005 after she allegedly confessed to a cellmate that she smothered the girl and dumped her body in a South Miami-Dade waterway. The cellmate, Robin Lunceford, may testify this week.
With no body, eyewitnesses to the slaying or confession, Miami-Dade prosecutors have spent weeks weaving a circumstantial case portraying Geralyn as a manipulative caregiver who gave multiple stories of how Rilya disappeared and appeared unconcerned that DCF supposedly took the child and never returned her.
Defense lawyers have laid blame on the DCF case worker who failed to properly supervise the child, and pointed to a lack of forensic evidence and questioned whether the child is even dead. On Monday, defense attorney Scott Sakin sought to poke holes in Pamela’s credibility, saying in cross examination she had embarked on a “road to lies.”
Pamela Graham agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, pleading guilty to child neglect and child abuse with no harm. She has yet to be sentenced.
On Monday, Pamela laid out her relationship with Geralyn from the beginning. They met in Arkansas in 1994, when Geralyn was running a restaurant.