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Ex-caregiver charged in Florida girl's killing

Authorities haven't found body of missing Rilya Wilson

Rilya Wilson
Child Abuse

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A woman faces a murder charge in the case of a missing 4-year-old girl whose disappearance prompted harsh criticism of Florida's child-welfare system, a prosecutor said.

Authorities discovered they had lost track of Rilya Wilson in April 2002 -- 15 months after a caregiver said she turned the child over to a state agency. Rilya's body has never been found.

One of the girl's caretakers, Geralyn Graham, has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Wednesday.

Graham also faces previous kidnapping and child abuse charges in the case.

Graham's attorney, Brian Tannebaum, called the charges "all lies," saying his client was shocked.

Graham, who is serving a prison sentence for fraud, maintains she gave Rilya to a Florida child welfare worker in January 2001 after asking that the state take charge of the child due to behavioral problems.

The state insists it has no record of anyone from the Florida Department of Children & Families picking the girl up. But Florida officials also admit they lost track of her in the state system.

The indictment accuses Graham of killing Rilya in December 2000, saying the girl was beaten and suffocated.

After Graham was charged six months ago with kidnapping and child abuse, she made admissions to someone in prison, "and that became another key ingredient in this prosecution," Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.

"We feel that we have her admissions, and we have some corroboration. ... So we feel very confident," Fernandez Rundle told reporters Wednesday.

Police have found "sufficient evidence" that the girl was dead by the time her disappearance was discovered, the state attorney's office said.

"You all know there is no crime scene, there is no body in this case, but we feel very comfortable in our charges here," Fernandez Rundle said.

"Our grand jury has heard the facts and determined that Rilya's disappearance was the result of an act of violence and has indicted the child's former caretaker," she said.

"We do know that she passed away in a very painful way."

Prosecutors said they can't release evidence to back up their findings.

Graham is serving a prison sentence on convictions for identity and Medicaid fraud -- for accepting payments on Rilya's behalf after she no longer had the child in her care.

Defense attorney Tannebaum said: "The state has made it clear they want to keep my client in jail for the rest of her life. My understanding is the state is saying in their press release that they have not found this child. So I don't know what new evidence they have."

He added, "I don't know who testified before the grand jury. I don't know what evidence was presented. All I know is that they've charged my client with murder, and they have not found a body."

Rilya's father, Manville Cash, said he does not believe investigators' conclusions about his daughter's fate.

"I don't think she's dead," said Cash, who was serving a prison sentence for a drug conviction at the time the child disappeared.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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