The Florida Supreme Court has affirmed the death sentence of Granville Ritchie, who was convicted in 2019 for the rape and murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams in Temple Terrace.
In an opinion released Thursday, a majority of the court found no legal basis to overturn Ritchie’s death sentence. But they did criticize several statements that the lead prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon, made during closing arguments in the trial’s penalty phase.
They included comments implying that the jury shouldn’t extend mercy to the defendant because he hadn’t shown any mercy to the victim. They also included discussion of Ritchie having immigrated from Jamaica, and comparisons the prosecutor made between Jamaica and the American legal system.
Some of the prosecutor’s rhetoric could be taken as anti-immigrant, and has no place in the courts, the justices wrote.
While the court found some of the comments were improper, they were isolated statements in an otherwise proper argument based on the case evidence. Evidence of the “horrific and senseless crimes against the victim” produced the jury’s finding in favor of a death sentence, not the prosecutor’s comments, the court wrote.
Justice Jorge Labarga disagreed, writing in a dissent that the prosecutor’s comments were a “fundamental error” that required a new sentencing hearing.
The majority’s decision means Ritchie, 43, will remain on Florida’s death row. His legal options may include bringing new claims in the trial court, or taking his case into the federal system.
Felecia Williams left her Tampa home the afternoon of May 16, 2014, with a family friend, Eboni Wiley. They went with Ritchie to his mother’s Temple Terrace apartment. Wiley testified at trial that she left the apartment to buy marijuana, leaving the girl with Ritchie. When she returned, Felecia was missing and Ritchie told her that she had run off.
Later that night, digital records showed Ritchie’s cell phone signal moving west through Tampa and across the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Felecia’s body was found in the water there the next day.
Ritchie was charged with her murder a few months later. He was convicted at trial in 2019. The jury unanimously favored the death penalty. A judge later imposed a death sentence.
Ritchie chose not to contest the guilt portion of his trial. His appellate attorney wrote in a brief to the high court that Ritchie acknowledges the state’s evidence was sufficient to overcome an acquittal.