TAMPA — Felecia Demerson stood in a courtroom Friday and faced the man convicted of raping and killing her 9-year-old daughter more than six years ago. She wore a uniform of grief and remembrance: a black dress, affixed with a glittering Hello Kitty pin, her daughter Felecia Williams' favorite character; a black facemask, printed with her daughter’s face.
Demerson told a judge about the medications she has to take to get through the day, the sleep she’s lost. She and other family members detailed the unending pain 41-year-old Granville Ritchie had brought to her family.
But the color she wore didn’t only signal perpetual mourning, she told Judge Michelle Sisco, who was tasked Friday with deciding whether to take a jury’s recommendation, now nearly a year old, that Ritchie be put to death for his crimes.
“I just want to say that I’ve waited 2,310 days for this day to come,” Demerson said. “I am here to stand as a wounded mother. I’m here wearing all black, because I’m here to bury (Ritchie) today.”
She said her only regret was that Ritchie couldn’t be hanged, to feel the same thing her daughter felt while he strangled her.
Sisco sentenced Ritchie to death Friday morning. She found that the aggravating factors that make capital punishment necessary — Felecia’s age, that Ritchie killed her while he sexually battered her and that Ritchie exhibited “extreme or outrageous depravity” in the tortuous killing — far outweighed the mitigating factors the defense presented.
“There will be no corporeal redemption for you — your physical being, your person,” Sisco said after sentencing Ritchie, who did not speak. “You will remain incarcerated until the date of your death is scheduled to occur.”
The jury last September found Ritchie guilty of first-degree murder, capital sexual battery and aggravated child abuse in the death of Felecia.
But court procedures and statewide court shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the formal sentencing hearing for nearly a year.
Ritchie was a stranger to 9-year-old Felecia Williams, who lived in east Tampa. But they both knew Eboni Wiley. She was a neighbor and friend to Felecia’s family and considered herself a mother-like figure to the girl. Wiley met Ritchie in early May 2014 and was instantly smitten.
On May 16, 2014, Felecia left home with Wiley. They went with Ritchie to his mother’s apartment in the Doral Oaks complex in Temple Terrace. Once there, Ritchie sent Wiley to go buy marijuana, leaving the girl with him alone.
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When Wiley returned about 50 minutes later, she found Ritchie alone. He claimed he’d given the girl money to go buy candy at a nearby CVS store and she had not returned.
Prosecutors believe Ritchie raped and strangled the girl while Wiley was gone. They believe he concealed her body in a suitcase, then later that night drove to the Courtney Campbell Causeway where he dumped her, nude, into the bay.
Wiley initially told Temple Terrace police that Felecia had run off while she and Ritchie had sex in a bedroom. But after the girl’s body was found the next day, she admitted she lied. Wiley was a star witness at Ritchie’s trial. She remains charged with lying during a missing person investigation. She is scheduled to face trial next month and could face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Ritchie’s attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, had argued that several mitigating factors should prevent Ritchie from being put to death. Sisco accepted some of those arguments — Ritchie’s abusive and violent childhood in Kingston, Jamaica; his lack of prior criminal history — but dismissed others, including the assertion that Ritchie was under emotional and mental duress when he killed Felecia. And the mitigating factors she did accept didn’t negate the heinousness of the crime, she said.
Sisco had already prepared her sentencing statement when Friday’s hearing began, but before reading it, she opened the court to statements. Several of Felecia’s family members spoke. Nobody spoke in Ritchie’s favor.
“She meant the world. She meant the world to us. And he discarded her like she was nothing,” Felecia’s sister, Shakeila Givens, said, before speaking directly to Ritchie. “Your day has come. God got you now.”
Felecia’s father, Jerome Rodriguez Williams, invoked his own legal tribulations and urged Ritchie to ask Demerson for forgiveness, and to pray for it. He said he forgave him.
“I love you,” he said. “You’re a child of God. But don’t play with him. If you play with him, he’s going to destroy you.”
State Attorney Andrew Warren, speaking after the sentencing, said the state was satisfied with the decision.
“In Florida, we reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst offenders,” he said. “And if the brutal rape and murder of a 9-year-old doesn’t meet that definition, I don’t know what does.”
Many of the family members who appeared in court Friday spoke through tears. At one point, so did Sisco, as she addressed Demerson.
“I’m in awe of your bravery and your tireless advocacy for your daughter, and the fact that you were able to sit through this trial with the horrific facts, you’re a better, stronger woman than I am,” she said. “What has been asked of you to bear in this life is more than really should be asked of any human being.”
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.