MIAMI (AP) — The caretaker of foster child Rilya Wilson grew to hate the 4-year-old because of defiant behavior, finally smothering the girl with a pillow in 2000 and covering up the slaying with a web of lies, a Florida prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Assistant State Attorney Joshua Weintraub said in closing arguments that the law permits the jury to find 67-year-old Geralyn Graham guilty of first-degree murder even though Rilya’s body was never found. Graham, who insists she is innocent, faces life in prison if convicted.
Evidence and testimony during the eight-week trial showed that Graham abused Rilya, even confining the girl in a dog cage or keeping her hidden in a laundry room for hours, Weintraub said. It was all because Rilya wouldn’t do exactly as Graham ordered, the prosecutor said.
“It happened because of this woman’s frustration and hatred of Rilya,” Weintraub said. “This woman hated Rilya Wilson for a variety of reasons.”
Defense attorney Michael Matters, however, said there was little testimony about hatred or maliciousness toward Rilya on the part of Graham. Jurors ought to focus on what evidence the state did not have, he said.
“Lack of physical evidence. Lack of a body. Lack of any physical discovery of remains. Lack of a motive for killing her,” Matters said. “You should use your common sense.”
Matters added that investigators should have focused on whether state child welfare workers might have sold Rilya to a family, possibly in another country, rather than zeroing in on a possible murder.
“There has not been any reliable or credible proof that Rilya is dead,” Matters said.
Jurors are likely to begin deliberations Wednesday, after the defense finishes its closing arguments and prosecutors have a chance at rebuttal argument.
Rilya’s disappearance went unnoticed by the state Department of Children and Families for about 15 months, largely because a caseworker failed to check on the girl in person. The shocking discovery that she had disappeared led to a shake-up at the agency, including high-level resignations, and passage of reforms including better tracking of foster children.