Sally Weintraub, renown Miami prosecutor who won conviction in Rilya Wilson case, dies at 92

Sally Weintraub, the longtime Miami prosecutor who secured a conviction in the case of murdered foster child Rilya Wilson, has died at age 92.

Weintraub leaves behind a storied legal legacy — she spent more than five decades as an attorney, and 37 years as a Miami-Dade assistant state attorney, prosecuting high-profile murderers, robbers and child abusers. She died Friday of congestive heart failure.

Weintraub retired for good in 2017, but only after she and her son, prosecutor Joshua Weintraub, convicted Geralyn Graham for torturing and kidnapping Rilya, the 4-year-old foster child who vanished in December 2000. The girl’s disappearance went unnoticed for 15 months. Graham, one of her caretakers, falsely claimed to investigators that a Florida Department of Children and Families case worker whisked the child away.

“I was outraged at everything I learned about the case,” Weintraub recalled in 2014. “The more I learned, the angrier I got. Everybody failed that child.”

Prosecutors and Miami-Dade homicide detectives believed Graham, after months of torturing the chubby-cheeked child, smothered her with a pillow, then dumped her body in a body of water in South Miami-Dade. Jurors in 2013 convicted Graham of kidnapping and aggravated child abuse — but deadlocked on the murder count.

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Still, Graham is now serving a 55-year prison sentence.

“She pored her soul into the Rilya Wilson case,” Joshua Weintraub said on Monday. “The fact that we got a conviction meant the world to her.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Sally Weintraub earned her law degree from the University of Wisconsin law school in 1953. Several years later, she moved to Miami after her husband, also a lawyer, was offered a job.

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She joined the Florida Bar in 1962, one of the few female lawyers practicing in South Florida. Weintaub joined Legal Services of Greater Miami, where she represented indigent clients from South Miami-Dade in civil and criminal cases. She then started her own private firm.

In 1979, then-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno persuaded Weintraub to join the office. Already in her 50s, Weintraub initially found a cool reception from fellow prosecutors.

“I was grandma to them. They were just a bunch of just-out-of-school kids,” Weintraub later said. “Nobody knew me. I didn’t go to law school here. I wasn’t born here. I had no contacts here.”

But Weintraub excelled with a steady, workman-like approach, moving up the ranks as she tried more and more serious cases.

“Sally was always well-prepared,” said retired Miami-Dade prosecutor Penny Brill, formerly the head of the office’s legal bureau. “She was a real champion for the victims.”

Among those Weintraub helped to convict:

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Dee Dyn Casteel, a South Miami-Dade waitress who paid two car mechanics to murder her lover and his elderly mother. Convicted in 1987, Casteel was the first Miami-Dade woman sentenced to Death Row.

Manuel Pardo, the ex-Sweetwater cop who went on to murder nine people during the 1980s. He was executed in December 2012.

Guillermo Arbelaez, a jilted man who threw his ex-lover’s 5-year-old son off a bridge into Biscayne Bay in 1989. He remains on Florida Death Row.

State attorney Sally Weintraub, left, shows the jury photos of the laundry room where Rilya Wilson was kept for days as Pamela Graham, right, testifies. home during Graham’s testimony. Former domestic partner of Geralyn Graham, Pamela Graham ( no blood relation) gave an emotional testimony at the Rilya Wilson trial in Miami, Florida on Monday, December 17, 2012.

State attorney Sally Weintraub, left, shows the jury photos of the laundry room where Rilya Wilson was kept for days as Pamela Graham, right, testifies. home during Graham’s testimony. Former domestic partner of Geralyn Graham, Pamela Graham ( no blood relation) gave an emotional testimony at the Rilya Wilson trial in Miami, Florida on Monday, December 17, 2012.

State attorney Sally Weintraub, left, shows the jury photos of the laundry room where Rilya Wilson was kept for days as Pamela Graham, right, testifies. home during Graham’s testimony. Former domestic partner of Geralyn Graham, Pamela Graham ( no blood relation) gave an emotional testimony at the Rilya Wilson trial in Miami, Florida on Monday, December 17, 2012.

Over the years, Weintraub was also known for mentoring young prosecutors, bringing them in to try murderer and robber suspects alongside her. That included her son, Joshua Weintraub, who soon became her trial partner.

“Looking back, I never realized criminal prosecutions were so stressful because she was always so calm, collected and in complete control as she stood up there questioning witnesses or cross-examining defendants,” Joshua Weintraub said in 2014.

The mother-and-son team together tried Geralyn Graham in a trial that ended in early 2013.

“Truly heartbroken & sad to learn of the passing of my former Senior Trial Counsel Sally Weintraub, outstanding lawyer, mother & public servant to countless victims of homicide & their beloved families,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle tweeted. “A true champion for justice. May she forever RIP. Praying for her family.”

Sally Weintraub retired in 2014, then came back for a couple more years to help investigate police shootings. Even as her health faltered in recent years, she remained a voracious reader, reading the New York Times and Washington Post daily over tea, talking politics with family.

“She was tenacious to the end,” Joshua Weintraub said.

Weintraub is survived by her three children: Elizabeth Hiltscher-Weintraub, Devorah Weintraub and Joshua Weintraub, and three grandchildren. A private service will be held for her on Tuesday.

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