MIAMI (CBS4) - Her rape and murder went unsolved for more than a decade and brought to light inadequacies in the social services system in Miami.
On Tuesday, 40-year old Gregory Martin was charged in the death of 13-year old Cynteria Phillips. Martin is currently being held without bail for a 2009 incident in which he's accused of savagely beating a Miami woman who is the mother of his children. It was DNA taken during the this investigation that came back as a match to the Phillips' case.
"It was a moment of joy, I never thought it could happen,' Cynteria's mother Stacey Phillips said, responding to news police had filed charges against a man for her daughter's brutal murder. "Why it happened to her, I don't know and may never, I'm glad justice has been done and he has been arrested."
The bloody nude body of Phillips was found on a grassy swale next to Edison High in August 2000; police said she had been severely beaten, sexually assaulted and murdered, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
"It was a tragic death, but justice really awaits this individual who did this brutal crime against this precious little girl," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, while holding a picture of Phillips. ""Her journey was one of 13 years of isolation, being let down by the world at large. But today, I wish we could look at this little girl and say to her, 'We've got justice for you, it's on it's way. It's late in coming, but it's on it's way."
The Department of Children and Families records show Phillips and her siblings were removed from their crack addicted mother's home when the girl was just four years old. At the time a social worker reported that the girl had vaginal tears and lacerations from abuse. The department sent her and one of her sisters to live with their father who had just gotten out of prison for raping a teenager.
According to a DCF report the girls' father reportedly beat them when he found out his two sons, ages seven and eight, had tried to have sex with them. The girls were removed from the home, sent to a shelter and then sent back to the man's home two days later.
A short time later, the girl's mother took them from their father's place to their aunt's apartment. Phillips older brother was killed during a drug related shooting at the apartment building days later. When Cynteria was taken to the hospital to be checked out, doctors found vaginal bleeding and reported it as abuse.
Phillips was again taken into custody by social services and placed in a shelter. While there, and just before her sixth birthday, she was molested during a picnic by an elderly volunteer.
In the intervening years, Phillips was in and out of a number of foster homes.
Reports on her well-being spiraled downward each passing year. By age 8, the Phillips' behavior and attitude were described as "disturbingly sexual" by one foster-mother. When she was nine years old Cynteria's third foster mother Lorraine Seymore said the girl had been caught having sex on the playground. Phillips also claimed she had been raped by a couple of boys while walking home from school.
Another year, another set of foster parents. Cynteria allegedly traded sex for mangoes on the playground by age ten.
She was eventually placed in 11 foster homes in eight years, all having kicked her out because of her uncontrollable behavior.
The last time anyone saw her alive was at The Miami Bridge Shelter. Witnesses were to later tell police that she hopped on a bus around 10 p.m. and was not seen again until her body was found nine hours later on the damp grass near the school.
"I thought they would never catch the guy. Don't ever give up on justice," said Cynteria's childhood friend who goes by the nickname Bella. "A lot of people gave up, thinking Cynteria's killer would never be caught."
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)
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