TAMPA — The jurors had heard Felecia Williams’ name. But it wasn’t until Friday that they saw her face.
From a TV monitor above the witness stand in a Tampa courtroom, the bright-eyed 9-year-old girl flashed a wide gap-toothed smile. The panel of 12 gazed at her and listened as a prosecutor explained why they were there.
“This is Felecia,” Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon said. “Her family called her Sugar Plum.”
The trial of Granville Ritchie opened in a Tampa courtroom Friday, five years after he was accused in the girl’s rape and murder.
In an opening statement to the jury, Harmon told a story of horror, punctuated by details of how the state believes she died.
“When Felecia was being murdered ... she was looking into the face of her killer,” Harmon said, before gesturing toward the defense table.
“The evidence will be clear that the same face is looking into this courtroom from this table right here. The man-sized hands that choked the life out of this little girl are right here crossed in the lap of this defendant.”
Ritchie’s trial is expected to last through the end of September. If he’s found guilty, prosecutors will ask the jury to impose a death sentence.
Harmon told the jury how the state intends to prove Ritchie’s guilt.
It begins with a woman named Eboni Wiley. She was a family friend, a cousin to one of Felecia’s older sisters. She lived near the east Ida Street home in Tampa where Williams lived with her sisters and mother, Felecia Demerson.
Demerson trusted Wiley because Wiley appeared to care about her daughter, the prosecutor said. The two rode bicycles, visited the park, and attended church together. They were so close that Wiley referred to herself as the girl’s godmother.
There was someone else whose company Wiley enjoyed, a man she called Trevor. She had met him in the spring of 2014 and was charmed by his Jamaican accent. She saved his number in her phone under the label “my husband.” His real name was Granville Ritchie.
A few days before Felecia disappeared, the girl visited Wiley at the nursing home where Wiley worked. The visit got Wiley in trouble.
Wiley was upset. She was also concerned about an incident in which Felecia had been caught stealing, Harmon said. She decided to counsel the girl, and mentioned it to Ritchie. He thought it was a good idea, Harmon said.
On May 16, 2014, Ritchie drove Wiley to Felecia’s home. The girl phoned her mother, who gave her permission to go with Wiley on the assumption they were headed to church.
Instead, Ritchie brought Wiley and Felecia to Apartment 721 in the Doral Oaks complex in Temple Terrace, where Ritchi had been staying. Wiley took an ecstasy pill, Harmon said. She and Ritchie started talking to the girl about stealing.
Ritchie staged a demonstration, placing money on a sofa.
He asked the girl: If I left and came back, would the money still be there?
Felecia replied, Maybe.
Oh, no, Ritchie said. That’s not good.
As Wiley fell under the influence of the drugs, Ritchie asked her to go buy marijuana, Harmon said. She asked Felecia to come with her, but Ritchie said he would watch over her.
When Wiley returned about 50 minutes later, she found Ritchie distraught. He claimed he’d given the girl money to go buy candy at a CVS store and told Wiley to go look for her there.
She did, but didn’t find the girl. When she returned to the apartment, she found Ritchie shirtless, sweating, and panicked, the prosecutor said. They talked about what to do. Wiley went into a closet and prayed. When she came out, she and Ritchie had sex and drank liquor.
They settled on a lie, which was later relayed to police. They would say that Wiley brought the girl to the apartment to see Ritchie’s mother, and that she vanished there.
Later that night, Wiley returned to Tampa and told the family that Felecia was missing.
Demerson went to Temple Terrace and notified police, who began a massive search.
It ended the next day, when Felecia’s nude body was found floating against the rocks and mangroves off the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Data from Ritchie’s cell phone created a digital trail.
It showed him making calls and text messages throughout the day via a cell tower near the Temple Terrace apartment. Late that night, the signal changed to a different tower, and kept switching to others as the phone moved west, into Tampa and eventually across the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
Near midnight, there was a 27 minute gap when Ritchie made no calls or texts, Harmon said. In that time, records put his phone on the west side of the causeway.
It was there, the next day, that someone spotted Williams’ body.
When investigators later seized the Lexus that Ritchie had been driving, they found sand on the floorboards similar to sand in the causeway area. Same with a mangrove leaf lodged near one of the car’s headlights.
Returning to the Temple Terrace apartment, investigators noted drag marks on the carpet and a broken suitcase wheel and zipper-pull from a particular brand of suitcase. A black suitcase of the same brand was found in Ritchie’s car. The prosecutor said the evidence suggests Ritchie used the bag to remove Williams’ body.
Ritchie, a heavy-set 40-year-old with close-cropped hair, showed little outward reaction to how the state’s lawyer described his actions.
His demeanor remained unchanged as the state called its first witness, Williams’ mother.
Demerson, her hair pulled back in a bun, spoke softly, rocking slightly in her seat. Before describing the last day she saw her daughter, Demerson was asked to talk about the kind of 9-year-old she was.
“She was very mischievous,” Demerson said.
“She loved people. She loved life. She loved animals. And she most definitely loved her family.”