TAMPA — Some of the charges that put Granville A. Ritchie, called a suspect in last month's killing of a 9-year-old Tampa girl, in jail are questionable because they stem from an improper police search of his cellphone, a defense attorney asserts.
"To the best of counsel's knowledge, no search warrant was obtained prior to law enforcement's search of private information found on the defendant's cell phone," lawyer Thomas Maiello wrote in a court motion.
Ritchie, 35, has not been charged with the death of Felecia Williams. But Temple Terrace police, who are investigating, called a news conference to name him as their chief suspect.
They did not specify why, but a search warrant affidavit placed Ritchie and the girl in the same Temple Terrace apartment from which she disappeared.
Authorities quickly put Ritchie behind bars on other charges. He remains in the Hillsborough County Jail after a judge revoked his bail on an earlier drug arrest.
A spokesman for Temple Terrace police declined Wednesday to discuss the investigation. Earlier, police said their investigation of Felecia's death revealed that Ritchie had sex with a different underage girl, and arrested him on four felony counts of that.
But those allegations, Maiello contends, grew out of information police got from Ritchie's phone. The information led them to a girl who was a half a year away from turning 18, he said.
Records show the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has dropped three of the underage sex charges against Ritchie, leaving one. A spokesman for the agency this week declined to say why.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled — like the U.S. Supreme Court did Wednesday — that police were required to get warrants to look into a suspect's cellphone. Agencies contacted Wednesday said they follow the requirements.
"We've always been very conservative on that," said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his agency follows the search warrant requirement on state cases, but such a warrant was not necessary in federal cases — until now.
"It would allow some people in some circumstances to get away with certain things. Even the court recognizes that," he said. "But that's the trade off. I respect the decision."
Staff writers Dan Sullivan, Weston Phippen and Anna M. Phillips contributed to this report.