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Six years later, 75 days in jail for lies about Tampa girl’s disappearance

Eboni Wiley admitted that she lied to police during an investigation of the 2014 disappearance of 9-year-old Felecia Williams, who had been murdered.
Eboni Wiley speaks during her sentencing hearing Friday in the Hillsborough circuit courthouse. She pleaded guilty to a charge of providing false information during a missing persons investigation related to the 2014 disappearance of 9-year-old Felecia Williams.
Eboni Wiley speaks during her sentencing hearing Friday in the Hillsborough circuit courthouse. She pleaded guilty to a charge of providing false information during a missing persons investigation related to the 2014 disappearance of 9-year-old Felecia Williams. [ WTVT-Fox 13 ]
Published Dec. 18, 2020|Updated Dec. 18, 2020

TAMPA — It’s been six years since Eboni Wiley lied to Felecia Williams’ family — and the police — about the circumstances of the 9-year-old girl’s disappearance.

In that time, she has lived with the looming threat of a long period of incarceration. It lingered even after she testified as the state’s star witness in the 2019 trial of Granville Ritchie, her one-time love interest, who was convicted of the girl’s rape and murder and now sits on death row.

On Friday, Wiley said she didn’t think she deserved jail. But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Samantha Ward disagreed, sentencing her to 75 days, plus five years of probation.

In an emotionally charged, four-hour hearing, Wiley wept as Felecia’s family members took the witness stand one-by-one and berated her.

“How could you be so stupid to leave my sister with a man you didn’t even know, that she didn’t even know?” said Charlecia Adams. “I hope you rot in hell.”

“You didn’t call 911,” said the girl’s grandmother, Brenda Johnson. “Why didn’t you call 911 when my baby was missing?”

Felecia Demerson, holds a photo of her late daughter, Felecia Williams, as she speaks in September to defendant Granville Ritchie in court in Tampa. Ritchie was given a sentence of death by 13th Circuit Court Judge Michelle Sisco for the murder of Demerson's daughter, Felecia Williams in 2014.
Felecia Demerson, holds a photo of her late daughter, Felecia Williams, as she speaks in September to defendant Granville Ritchie in court in Tampa. Ritchie was given a sentence of death by 13th Circuit Court Judge Michelle Sisco for the murder of Demerson's daughter, Felecia Williams in 2014. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Felecia Demerson, the girl’s mother, said that her daughter would have just celebrated her 16th birthday if she were alive today. She spoke of how the family is haunted by how she died so young and so horrifically.

“Even though it has been six years, it feels like six days,” she said.

Wiley, donning a black coat, apologized through heavy sobs. She admitted that she had made mistakes, which carried profound consequences.

“I’m sorry I made a wrong decision, a not-thinking decision,” she said. “I’m so embarrassed and heartbroken.”

Related: Star witness in Tampa 9-year-old's murder pleads guilty to lying to police

Wiley agreed in October to plead guilty to a charge of providing false information during a missing person investigation. In exchange, prosecutors said they would seek a sentence of no more than six months in jail, followed by five years probation.

It was an outcome Felecia’s family said was too light. But it was one they were forced to accept.

Wiley was a friend of Felecia’s family and considered herself to be a mother-like figure to the girl.

She had met Granville Ritchie a few days before Felecia’s disappearance.

In her court testimony during Ritchie’s trial, she told the story of what happened.

Related: 'He sold me a dream." Witness links Granville Ritchie to 9-year-old murder victim

She described being charmed by Ritchie’s Jamaican accent, his affection for her and his talk of a wealthy future. She believed he was the man she would marry.

On May 16, 2014, Wiley complained to Ritchie that Felecia had gotten her in trouble by coming by the nursing home where she worked. She also expressed concern that Felecia had recently been in trouble for stealing. Ritchie suggested they counsel the girl.

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Later that day, they picked up Felecia at her mother’s east Tampa home. They drove to an apartment that belonged to Ritchie’s mother in the Doral Oaks complex in Temple Terrace. While there, Ritchie gave Wiley an Ecstasy pill and suggested she should go buy some marijuana.

Wiley was gone for about 50 minutes, leaving Felecia with Ritchie. When she returned, Felecia was missing. Ritchie claimed she had run off after he gave her money to buy candy at a nearby CVS store.

Later that night, they agreed to lie about what happened. Wiley told Felecia’s mother the girl had run off while she was taking a shower at the apartment. She later told Temple Terrace police the girl vanished while she and Ritchie had sex.

Felecia’s body was later found floating amid the rocks and mangroves off the Courtney Campbell Causeway. She’d been raped and strangled to death. Ritchie’s cell phone data, among other evidence, linked him to the location.

Related: Granville Ritchie, who murdered 9-year-old Tampa girl, sentenced to death by judge

In court Friday, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon acknowledged that prosecutors likely could not have secured Ritchie’s conviction without Wiley’s testimony. But he emphasized the multiple lies she told and how they hampered the initial investigation.

Assistant Public Defender Rocky Brancato asked that the judge spare her jail. He presented testimony from Peter Bursten, a psychologist, who described how Wiley has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress, among other problems.

Her actions, Brancato said, have drawn threats and made her something of a pariah.

“People hate her because of what she’s done,” Brancato said. “And that’s a level of punishment that, in and of itself, is unrelenting.”

Standing before the judge, Wiley again apologized. She has two children of her own now and wants to be a good mother to them.

But she didn’t deserve jail, she said. The judge asked why.

“Because it wasn’t intentional,” she said.

“It wasn’t intentional to tell a lie?” Ward asked.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Wiley said.

“You did do it on purpose,” the judge said.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I don’t deserve jail time. I’m sorry, I don’t deserve it.”

“That’s the wrong answer,” the judge said.

Wiley was led away in handcuffs.

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