Five years after crime, judge won't budge on July trial date in slaying of 9-year-old Tampa girl

Granville Ritchie was arrested in the murder of Felecia Williams. His attorneys sought to delay his trial, in part for more research in his native Jamaica.
Granville Ritchie is accused in the 2014 murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams. [Times ( 2014)]
Granville Ritchie is accused in the 2014 murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams. [Times ( 2014)]
Published May 22
Updated May 22

TAMPA — It has been nearly five years since Granville Ritchie was accused in the murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams.

His trial is set for July. But defense attorneys told a judge Wednesday they need more time to prepare.

The judge was unmoved.

"It is happening," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco. "It is time for finality. We're going to trial."

Ritchie, 40, has been held in jail for 1,826 days. He faces the death penalty if found guilty.

READ MORE: Granville Ritchie charged in murder of 9-year-old Felecia Williams

Part of the delay in his case stemmed from legal uncertainty about Florida's death penalty law, which the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2016. It took about a year of legal wrangling and lawmaking before death penalty prosecutions could continue, albeit with the new requirement that juries must be unanimous if they are to recommend capital punishment.

Ritchie's case has been set for trial once before, in 2018, but that date was canceled.

Much of the defense's pretrial work has involved efforts to fight off a possible death sentence. An attorney and an investigator traveled in 2017 to interview his family in Jamaica, where Ritchie was born and lived until he was 18.

In court Wednesday, attorney Bjorn Brunvand told the judge it was necessary to return to the island nation in the coming weeks but local violence made travel there too dangerous. Ritchie's father was murdered there, he said.

Attorney Daniel Hernandez also raised concerns about funding for a brain examination Ritchie is scheduled to undergo in June.

The judge wouldn't budge.

"I'm not continuing this trial," Sisco said. "It needs to get done."

Jury selection is set to begin July 9.

The events that preceded Ritchie's arrest began with Felicia Williams’ disappearance on May 16, 2014, The girl left her east Tampa home that day with a family friend, Eboni Wiley, and was taken to an apartment in Temple Terrace. Wiley met up with Ritchie there, according to police.

Wiley later left the apartment for about an hour. When she returned, Ritchie was shirtless and sweating and said the girl had "run off," according to police. Her body was found the next day in the waters near the Clearwater side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

A three-month investigation involving a number of agencies led to Ritchie’s arrest on charges of murder, capital sexual battery, and aggravated child abuse. Police said they believe Ritchie killed the girl, then hid her body in a suitcase before leaving her near the causeway.

Contact Dan Sullivan at Follow @TimesDan.