TAMPA — Eboni Wiley, who delivered 9-year-old Felecia Williams to the man that raped and killed her, pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that she lied during an investigation of the girl’s disappearance.
In exchange, prosecutors agreed they will seek a sentence for Wiley of no more than six months in jail, with five years of probation to follow. A formal sentencing hearing is set for December.
Felecia’s family strongly objected to the sentence. Her mother, Felecia Demerson, called it “a slap on the wrist.”
“We are the only ones punished forever while you are punished for six months,” Demerson said. “That is not enough time for Ms. Wiley to understand the magnitude of what she’s done.”
Wiley appeared to weep, but offered no apology.
Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon noted that Wiley cooperated with prosecutors and has no prior criminal record. He told a judge that state sentencing guidelines would put her term of incarceration at no more than a year.
“Our office poured our heart and soul into convicting Felecia’s murderer and securing a death sentence, which Ms. Wiley’s testimony made possible,” a spokesman for the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “There is zero evidence that Ms. Wiley was involved or even knew about what truly happened to Felecia; she made a false statement to police about what she believed to be a runaway child—despite her cooperation, we still prosecuted her for her lies and obtained a jail sentence consistent with the sentencing guidelines.”
The guilty plea, which Wiley said she made in her best interest, nixes a trial that had been scheduled for next week and punctuates a six-year legal odyssey.
She was 23 when she first became embroiled in the murder investigation. She’s 30 now. Last year, she was the star witness in the trial of Granville Ritchie, who was convicted and sentenced to death for Felecia’s murder.
In testimony that spanned two days, Wiley recounted what she now says is the truth of what occurred the day Felecia went missing.
She’d met Ritchie a few days earlier when he’d stopped her on an east Tampa street and asked for her number. They later chatted and met up at Ritchie’s mother’s apartment in Temple Terrace. She described how she was charmed by his Jamaican accent, his apparent affection and talk of a wealthy future.
“He sold me a dream,” she told a jury.
Felecia’s family lived next door to Wiley. She considered herself a mother-like figure to the girl, taking her to church, out to eat or to ride bikes.
On May 16, 2014, Felecia showed up at the nursing home where Wiley worked, looking for her friend. The child’s visit got Wiley in trouble at work and she later vented to Ritchie. She also expressed concern that the girl had recently been in trouble for stealing. Ritchie suggested they counsel Felecia, Wiley said. Later that day, Ritchie drove Wiley to Felecia’s home. The girl left with the pair.
They went to the Temple Terrace apartment. Ritchie gave Wiley an Ecstasy pill. He later asked her to go buy marijuana. He said the girl should stay with him, she testified.
Wiley was gone for about 50 minutes. When she returned to the Doral Oaks apartment complex, Ritchie told her he’d given Felecia money to buy candy at a local CVS store and she had not returned, according to her testimony. Wiley went to the store, but a clerk told her she hadn’t seen the girl. When she returned to the apartment, Wiley said, she found Ritchie shirtless and panicked.
She said he gave her a glass of cognac and they later had sex. As night fell, they agreed to lie about the circumstances of Felecia’s disappearance, she said. Wiley would later tell Felecia’s mother that she’d met Ritchie’s mother at the apartment and that Felecia had run off while Wiley took a shower. Her story later changed. She admitted to Temple Terrace police that Ritchie had been there. But she said Felecia had run off while Wiley and Ritchie had sex in the shower.
The next night, Felecia’s nude body was found floating amid the rocks and mangroves off the Courtney Campbell Causeway. She had been raped and strangled to death. Ritchie’s cell phone data, among other evidence, linked him to the location.
Wiley was charged with providing false information during a missing person investigation, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The accusation hung over her for more than half a decade. In her testimony at Ritchie’s trial, she asserted that she had been given no guarantees of leniency from the state in exchange for her testimony.
“Today is a new day for everyone, but not my Sugar Plum,” Demerson said in court Friday.
Her daughter would be about to turn 16 today. She should be planning a sweet 16 party today. Instead, she’s in court.
“You seem so poised and convinced you didn’t do anything,” she told Wiley. “Sugar Plum never even made it to 10 years old because she trusted you, an adult she loved.”