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Defense probes lies told by key witness in slaying of 9-year-old girl

Eboni Wiley testifies that she’s telling the truth now about events surrounding the 2014 disappearance of Felecia Williams.
Eboni Wiley, left, testifies Monday in the murder trial of ex-boyfriend Granville Ritchie. Wiley was supposed to be caring for 9-year-old Felecia Williams the day the girl disappeared. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Sep. 17
Updated Sep. 18

TAMPA — Eboni Wiley doesn’t deny that she lied.

She lied to Felecia Williams’s mother, and to the police, when she first described the circumstances of the 9-year-old girl’s disappearance in May 2014.

Wiley also doesn’t deny she has taken drugs and was under the influence of MDMA — commonly known as ecstasy or molly — on the night the girl vanished.

So can the jury in Granville Ritchie’s murder trial believe her now?

On Tuesday morning, Ritchie’s defense attorney tried to cast doubt on Wiley’s credibility as she told a jury what she said was the truth.

“I told a lot of stories,” Wiley said. “Yes, I lied. I can admit that. Yes, I lied. Yes, I was on drugs.”

Ritchie, 40, is charged with murder, sexual battery and child abuse in the death of Felecia Williams on May 16, 2014. Wiley lived in the girl’s east Tampa neighborhood and considered herself like a mother to her. She met Ritchie a few days before the girl’s death.

On Monday, Wiley took the witness stand and told the jury how she was smitten with the man she knew as Trevor. She also recounted the day Felecia vanished, when she and Ritchie picked up the girl and took her to Ritchie’s Temple Terrace apartment.

RELATED STORY: ‘He sold me a dream.’ Ex-girlfriend links Granville Ritchie to 9-year-old murder victim

Wiley wore a black blouse to court Tuesday, a contrast to the bright colors she had donned the day before. On the stand, she wept and raised her voice at times as defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand picked away at the lies she admitted having told in the past.

The truth, Wiley said, is that she left Felecia with Ritchie in his apartment to go buy marijuana. She came back to find her gone. She said Ritchie claimed he had given Felecia money to buy candy at a nearby CVS store and she had not returned. Wiley went looking for her but CVS employees had not seen the girl.

When Wiley came back to the apartment, she said, she prayed in a bedroom. Then, she and Ritchie drank Hennessy cognac and had sex on the living room floor. As it got late, they agreed they needed to lie. Ritchie told Wiley to say she had brought the girl to the apartment and that a woman named Vivian — Ritchie’s mother — was there.

Wiley would say she had taken a shower in the apartment and that when she came out, Felecia was gone. Ritchie even gave Wiley his mother’s phone number and Wiley talked to her, she said, to get her to back up the story.

“As a result of you lying to all these people, they believed you?” attorney Brunvand asked.

“Yes,” Wiley said.

“So you’re pretty good at it?” the attorney asked.

“No,” Wiley said.

Eboni Wiley prepares to testify during Granville Ritchie's murder trial Monday. Wiley took 9-year-old Felecia Williams from her home to Ritchie's apartment the day the girl went missing. Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand sits at left. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

The lie later changed. Wiley eventually told police she’d been with a man. She said they’d had sex in the shower while the girl watched cartoons in the living room. Then they came out to find her gone.

She only told the truth, she said, after learning that the girl had been found dead.

Brunvand also asked Wiley about her history with drugs. Specifically, he brought up a 2012 incident in which she called police because she was having a “bad trip” after taking MDMA.

“You described it as Satan trying to get into your mind,” Brunvand said.

“I was so high,” Wiley said, her voice rising, “I felt like I needed to be protected.”

Wiley acknowledged that she still faces a charge of lying during a missing person investigation, a crime for which she could receive as much as five years in prison. The public defender who represents her watched from the courtroom gallery.

She said she hopes the charge can be dropped. But when a prosecutor questioned her again, she made clear that the state had made no promises of leniency in exchange for her testimony against Ritchie.

RELATED STORY: ‘She was looking into the face of her killer:’ Trial opens in slaying of girl, 9

During Wiley’s testimony Tuesday, jurors were ushered out of the courtroom as Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco inquired about a disturbance in the hallway outside.

In walked Felecia Demerson and Jerome Williams, the parents of Felecia Williams. Behind them was Wiley’s sister along with her mother, Sabrina Teel.

Teel told the judge Demerson had accosted her outside near a vending machine. But the judge wasn’t concerned about details. She warned that if there were any further disturbance, she could have people removed from the courthouse.

“I understand that emotions are running high,” Sisco said. “You all have to control that.”

RELATED STORY: Jurors in Tampa murder trial confront ultimate question: Could they impose death penalty?

The trial is expected to last through next week. If Ritchie is found guilty, prosecutors will ask the jury to sentence him to death.

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