Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Man named as suspect in girl's death to remain in Hillsborough jail

TAMPA — Granville Ritchie, head tilted and hands clasped, said nothing.

He stared toward the stand as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe announced Thursday that Ritchie would remain behind bars, without bail.

"Judge, thanks for hearing us out," said Thomas Maiello, an attorney representing Ritchie. He stuffed some papers into a folder and then watched as Ritchie was led away in shackles.

Next week marks two months since the May 16 disappearance of 9-year-old Felecia Williams, whose body was discovered the next day floating off the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Authorities will not say how she died.

They say Ritchie, 35, is their chief suspect in her death. But they have not charged him in connection with that — rather on unrelated charges that have kept him locked up in bay area jails since May 21.

The child's mother, Felecia Demerson, family spokesman Ariel O. Garcia and a line of family members crammed into the second row of the courtroom Thursday where the question of Ritchie's fate was being decided.

Demerson watched with sad eyes, seldom stirring from her seat. When Tharpe ruled that Ritchie would remain in custody, Garcia wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Another relative clapped and cried with joy.

"Mrs. Demerson's just glad and happy that Mr. Ritchie will not be leaving jail," Garcia said for her, later adding, "where he belongs."

A search warrant affidavit filed in May places Ritchie at the same Temple Terrace apartment complex from which the girl disappeared. The affidavit revealed that Eboni A. Wiley, a family friend, and Ritchie had taken Felecia that day to the apartment — but Ritchie and Wiley gave vastly different accounts to investigators on how she disappeared.

During the hearing Thursday, Tharpe said he would not focus on the Temple Terrace death investigation. Instead, testimony revolved around three unrelated charges facing Ritchie in Hillsborough: having sex with a minor and two drug counts.

Prosecutor Jennifer Johnson said Ritchie violated terms of a pretrial release from an earlier drug arrest when he was charged in late May with possession of marijuana and unlawful sex with a minor. She asked Tharpe to continue holding him without bail.

Maiello contended, among other things, that an improper police search of Ritchie's cellphone during the death investigation spurred the sex charge. And he asserted Ritchie was not on pretrial release when he entered a drug program after the earlier arrest. He asked the judge to set a reasonable bail.

Tharpe ultimately sided with the prosecutor.

Ritchie had been arrested in February on a possession of ecstasy charge. He was offered and accepted pretrial drug intervention and entered into an agreement with the state. Therefore, Tharpe ruled, he had to abide by the rules.

"The fact of the matter," the judge concluded, "is even though (the state) did not become aware until May, the defendant violated the terms of his pretrial release. There's no getting around that."

Contact Zack Peterson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @zpeterson918.

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