TEMPLE TERRACE — Members of Felecia Williams’ family erupted in cheers Friday when police announced that murder charges had been filed against Granville Ritchie, the man accused of killing the 9-year-old girl in May.
But elation quickly turned to sobs and horror when they heard what investigators said Felecia experienced during the last minutes of her life.
On May 16, Ritchie and Eboni Wiley, who described herself as a friend of Felecia’s family, picked the girl up from her East Tampa home and drove her to Ritchie’s apartment in Temple Terrace, police said. Wiley told investigators she left the apartment for about an hour to buy marijuana, leaving Ritchie and Felecia alone together.
While she was gone, Ritchie hit the girl over the head, then raped and strangled the third-grader, Temple Terrace Police Chief Ken Albano said. Ritchie hid her body in a suitcase until he was able to dump it in the water near the Clearwater side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Albano said.
Felecia’s mother, Felecia Demerson, stood at the chief’s side as he announced that Ritchie has been charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery and aggravated child abuse. She declined to comment during a press conference.
“In a matter like this, what few words she would have escape her,” said her lawyer, Ariel Garcia.
Felecia’s nude body was discovered May 17 by a pair of fishermen near the Causeway.
Ritchie has been in jail since he was arrested in St. Petersburg on May 21 on unrelated drug charges. He also faces a charge of having sex with a minor in another unrelated case.
He has not been cooperative with police, Albano said.
Police named Ritchie a suspect shortly after Felecia’s body was found but did not arrest him then. As the weeks turned to months, the police department remained steadfastly quiet about the status of the case.
Albano said Temple Terrace police — along with investigators from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Clearwater Police Department and other agencies — have worked diligently for three months to compile evidence and build a solid case against Ritchie.
“It’s a tremendous relief,” Albano said about the charges.
Police on Friday would not elaborate on what prompted them to finally arrest Ritchie on murder charges but did outline some of the evidence against him.
Before he was arrested, police interviewed Ritchie after he admitted he was one of the last people to see Felecia alive.
When they arrived at his apartment May 16, he and Wiley left Felecia in the living room watching a movie while they went into another room to have sex, Ritchie told police. The girl was gone when the couple came back out into the living room a short time later, he said.
Wiley later said that was a story the pair had concocted together and agreed to tell police.
She left the apartment when Ritchie told her to go buy drugs, records show. When she returned, Ritchie was shirtless, sweaty and visibly upset, she told investigators.
And Felecia was gone. Ritchie told her the girl had “run off.”
Wiley told police that she and Ritchie had some drinks, that she went into the bedroom closet to pray for 10 minutes and that the pair had sex before Ritchie dropped her off at home to report Felecia missing.
Ritchie told investigators he drove out to Thonotosassa to visit a friend after he dropped Wiley off at home. He later drove to his girlfriend’s house in St. Petersburg, he said.
But cell phone site data shows he never went to Thonotosassa, police said. Instead, cell phone records show he returned to the Temple Terrace apartment, and later, to the site where Felecia’s body was found in Clearwater, police said.
Investigators obtained search warrants for the apartment and the Lexus Ritchie was driving around the time Felecia disappeared and found several other pieces of evidence, Albano said.
The apartment appeared to have been cleaned recently, police said. Investigators found wheel tracks on the carpet leading the apartment’s patio, along which they found a broken wheel and a zipper pull from a black, Protege brand suitcase. Witnesses told police they had seen Ritchie with two such suitcases.
Only one of those suitcases was found in Ritchie’s car, police said. Soil and plant material that matched samples from the site where Felecia’s body was found was also discovered in the car.
Ritchie will make his first court appearance on the new charges Saturday morning, records show.
Wiley was arrested May 17 and charged with providing false information to law enforcement. She posted $2,000 bail the next day. At a court appearance Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Albano would not say Friday whether more charges would be filed against her.
A $13,000 reward offered in the case still stands, Albano said, and police still want to hear from anyone who might have information about Ritchie or Felecia.
“We have successfully completed phase one of this case, but there is certainly more work to be done,” he said.
Felecia’s family, who wore T-shirts bearing her picture and brought pink balloons and flowers in her honor, declined to comment after the announcement.
Albano thanked the other agencies who helped during the investigation. He described the case as “very emotional” for everyone involved.
He has carried a rumpled copy of the original missing person report with Felecia’s photo on it throughout the course of the entire investigation.
“I cannot begin to understand what she is going through,” Albano said about Felecia’s mom. “But we all carry a little touch of that.”