MIAMI - A fellow inmate testified Tuesday that the former caretaker of a foster child who disappeared more than a decade ago tearfully admitted to killing the girl when the two shared a cell one night. Two other inmates also have testified that the caretaker confessed.
Ramona Tavia, a 41-year-old woman serving life for a 1994 robbery and murder, said she befriended Geralyn Graham in a woman's jail annex in downtown Miami and was briefly moved into Graham's cell in November 2003. Tavia said Graham seemed upset after a phone call and was crying when corrections officers led her into the cell.
Graham, Tavia said, kept repeating that "she killed the baby" to protect her former live-in lover, Pamela Graham.
"She said she had to protect Pam. Pam is sick and weak," Tavia testified.
Graham, 66, faces life in prison if convicted of murder, kidnapping and child abuse charges in the disappearance of 4-year-old Rilya Wilson, whose body has never been found. Rilya was not discovered to be missing from the Graham home until 15 months after authorities believe she was killed, leading to changes in the state foster care system and a high-level shake-up at the Department of Children and Families.
Tavia was the final witness for the prosecution, which rested its case Tuesday. The defense will begin with police investigators who were unable to find Rilya's remains, eyewitnesses to a slaying or any forensic evidence. Pamela Graham testified earlier that she does not know what happened to Rilya.
The state's case rests heavily on the testimony of jailhouse snitches Tavia, Robin Lunceford and Maggie Carr. Tavia said Graham initially told her that a state child welfare worker had taken Rilya — in this telling, a white man rather than the black woman she described to many others — and had never returned the girl.
Lunceford was the star witness, telling jurors that Graham said she smothered Rilya with a pillow because the child was evil and then disposed of the body in or near water. Carr also testified that Graham made reference to the remains being near water and that they would never be found.
Tavia said Graham's confession upset her.
"I feel like the lady lied to me," she said. She said it wasn't until Tavia saw a March 2005 television news account of the case, including a photo of Lunceford, that she told detectives what Graham had said that night. Initially, she said, she didn't intend to come forward but "as a mother" finally felt compelled to do so.
I thought, 'Oh my God, Robin is not lying this time, because I've been in the room with the lady and I know'," Tavia testified.
Tavia becomes eligible for parole in 2016 but insisted she is not motivated to testify by a desire to get out of prison, and that prosecutors have made her no promises.
"I'm testifying because I don't want nobody to do it to my grandbaby," she said.
Authorities have found no evidence to support Graham's claim that a state worker removed Rilya. It is not clear whether Graham will take the witness stand in her own defense.
After more than five weeks of testimony, the case is expected to go to the jury sometime next week.
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