MIAMI - A jailhouse snitch looking for a way out of prison concocted a story about hearing a woman confess to killing a 4-year-old foster child, the woman's defense attorney told a jury Wednesday, seeking to cast doubt on the prosecution's star witness.
Attorney Michael Matters told jurors in a closing argument there were numerous inconsistencies in testimony by Robin Lunceford, a career criminal who said Geralyn Graham tearfully confessed in 2004 to smothering little Rilya Wilson and burying her body over a decade ago.
Lunceford, who has spent more than half of her life behind bars, got a life prison sentence reduced to 10 years in exchange for her testimony. She gets out in 2014.
"I suggest to you that every bit of the story she concocted about my client is absolutely unbelievable," Matters told jurors. "Robin's worked for this. She earned it. She graduated from prison life with a master's of manipulation and a doctorate in deceit."
Graham, 67, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated child abuse. Rilya went missing from Graham's home in late 2000 but her disappearance was not noticed by the state Department of Children and Families for 15 months, leading to high-level agency resignations and passage of child welfare reforms.
"She denied forever. But to Robin, the saint, she's going to confess? Come on," said Matters.
After eight weeks of trial, jurors are expected to begin deliberations Thursday. Graham has long maintained her innocence, claiming Rilya was taken away by a state employee for mental tests and never returned. Investigators say there's no truth to her story.
Lunceford testified that Graham told her when both were in jail that she killed Rilya because the girl was evil and possessed by demons. Lunceford provided details that were not publicly known, such as Graham reaching a breaking point when Rilya insisted on wearing a Cleopatra mask for Halloween rather than an angel costume.
Matters, however, said Lunceford could have learned some details by rifling through Graham's legal papers and paying close attention to news coverage. Graham was jailed in a fraud case and had just been charged with child abuse when the alleged confession took place.
"My client never committed murder. My client never smothered Rilya Wilson. My client never buried her anywhere," Matters said.
He also suggested that because Rilya's remains have never been found the girl might have been sold and could still be alive. Prosecutors, in a rebuttal argument, would have none of it. Two other prison inmates testified that Graham implicated herself in Rilya's death
"I submit to you there is no evidence that contradicts the testimony of any of the state's witnesses," Assistant State Attorney Sally Weintraub said.
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