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Originally published Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:26 AM

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Jurors in missing girl case stuck on murder count

Jurors said Thursday they had reached verdicts on child abuse and kidnapping charges but were deadlocked on a murder count against a woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago.

AP Legal Affairs Writer

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MIAMI —

Jurors said Thursday they had reached verdicts on child abuse and kidnapping charges but were deadlocked on a murder count against a woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago.

The jury said in a note Thursday afternoon they had voted 11-1 on the murder charge against 67-year-old Geralyn Graham, a charge that carries a potential life sentence. The note did not say which side had the majority or what the verdicts were on kidnapping and aggravated child abuse charges, which carry less severe sentences.

After more than three additional hours of deliberations, Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez ordered the panel to return Friday morning to continue.

The jury could opt for a less severe manslaughter charge rather than murder. All verdicts must be unanimous.

"All of us are depending on you to make a wise and legal decision in this matter," the judge told jurors earlier in the day.

Prosecutors said Graham, who was Rilya's caretaker, smothered the girl with a pillow in December 2000 and disposed of her body, which has never been found. Key to the case is a purported jailhouse confession by Graham to career criminal Robin Lunceford, who said Graham told her she did it because Rilya was evil and demonic.

Before that, testimony in the two-month trial showed Rilya was kept in a dog cage, tied to her bed with plastic restraints and forced for long periods to stay in a small laundry room as punishment for disobedience.

"She was being brutalized. She was being punished to the extreme," Assistant State Attorney Sally Weintraub said in closing arguments.

Rilya's disappearance went unnoticed by state officials for 15 months, triggering high-level resignations at the Department of Children and Families and leading to passage of several reform laws, such as better tracking of foster children. A caseworker who failed to check up on Rilya in person during all those months eventually pleaded guilty to official misconduct charges for falsifying time sheets.

Graham's defense raised the possibility Rilya might have been sold and could still be alive. They questioned the credibility of Lunceford - whose life sentence was cut to 10 years in exchange for her testimony - and the fact that no physical evidence exists showing a crime was committed.

"There's no evidence of it because my client never committed murder," said defense attorney Michael Matters.

Two other prison inmates also testified that Graham implicated herself in Rilya's killing. Friends and acquaintances said Graham told various stories about the girl's disappearance, such as trips to Disney World and New York, and she told investigators the girl had been taken for mental tests by a state caseworker and never returned.

Authorities found no evidence to back up those explanations.

Before jurors began deliberations, three alternates were sent home but instructed by the judge not to talk to the media or read news account of the case until a verdict in the high-profile case is reached.

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