TAMPA — Kellisa Kelley has visited Granville Ritchie regularly in the Hillsborough County Jail in the five years since her former boyfriend’s arrest. She believes he’s innocent in the murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams, the crime for which he is now on trial.
She sends him money. They’ve had more than 300 jail visits and chatted via phone thousands of times, according to prosecutors. All this, despite the fact that it was her car Ritchie was driving the day the little girl vanished, that he took off and left her stranded at a St. Petersburg business when the cops called, and that she never saw the vehicle again after it was seized by investigators.
Kelley was one of the state’s final witnesses Monday before prosecutors rested their case in Ritchie’s murder trial.
She spoke slowly, struggled to remember some details, and appeared to grow hostile in response to some questions. She also contradicted some of the state’s evidence, namely the scratches that police found on the side of her silver Lexus.
“I think all of those scratches were on there,” she said. “My car was scratched up pretty bad.”
But prosecutors have presented evidence that the scratches came from mangrove branches that line a service road on the north side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. It was there, in the water, that Felecia’s nude body was found late in the day on May 17, 2014.
The little girl was taken from her east Tampa home the day before by a family friend, Eboni Wiley. Wiley introduced the girl to Ritchie, who took the pair to his mother’s apartment in Temple Terrace. Wiley left the apartment that afternoon to buy marijuana, and later returned to find Ritchie panicked and Felecia missing.
Prosecutors say Ritchie raped Felecia, then strangled her to death, shoved her body into a suitcase, and later dumped it at the Causeway.
On the witness stand Monday, Kelley denied that she and Ritchie are still in a relationship, describing their situation as “just friends.”
She was one of several women with whom Ritchie was involved. He had met Wiley days earlier. He also had an estranged wife in Riverview. And he had shared affections with a fourth woman, who lived in Mississippi, prosecutors said.
Ritchie sometimes stayed at Kelley’s home in St. Petersburg. The day of the girl’s disappearance, she wanted him to accompany her to an InstaLoan office, where she was going to use her car as collateral to obtain a loan. But instead, Ritchie took the car and didn’t return until after midnight, she said. She didn’t know he had gone to Temple Terrace.
The next day, as reports of Felecia’s disappearance made news, she and Ritchie visited the loan office in St. Petersburg. She refused to answer when a prosecutor asked her why she needed the money.
While at the office, Ritchie received a phone call, told Kelley he had to leave, and abruptly took off in her car. She would later learn that he headed to Tampa, where police seized the vehicle and took him in to be questioned.
She sent him text messages, cursing him for leaving her stranded, calling him selfish. Eventually, he replied: “I’m in trouble relax.”
In the courtroom, Ritchie watched her testimony impassively, his cheek resting against his left hand.
The jury could begin deciding whether Ritchie is guilty as soon as Wednesday. If he’s convicted, prosecutors will ask for a death sentence.
Last week, the jury heard about various pieces of forensic evidence, including a tiny leaf found lodged in the Lexus’ passenger-side headlight. A forensic botanist testified that the leaf came from a mangrove tree and that such plants only grow near salt water.
Felecia’s body was found in the water beside a service road that runs parallel to the north side of the causeway. Mangrove trees grow alongside it. Detectives testified that it is difficult to avoid hitting the mangrove branches when driving there.
But perhaps the state’s most crucial evidence against Ritchie came from Justin Fleck, an FBI agent. He conducted a detailed analysis of Ritchie’s cell phone data.
On the afternoon that Felecia disappeared, Ritchie’s phone was using a cell phone tower north of the Temple Terrace apartment. The phone continued to bounce off the same tower late into the evening, contradicting Ritchie’s story that he left to try to visit a friend in Thonotosassa.
The phone stayed in the area until after 10 p.m., when it began using towers further west, toward Tampa. The jury saw a series of maps, which showed the phone signal continuing westward. Just after 11 p.m., the phone was using a tower south of Tampa International Airport, near where Interstate 275 connects to the Veterans Expressway.
Minutes later, the phone began using a tower near the east side of the causeway. The signal stayed connected to that tower for much of the next hour.