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Inmate named suspect in 2009 slaying of UT student

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:06 PM
TAMPA -

Days after University of Tampa student Ryan McCall was shot to death during a robbery on the North Boulevard bridge, detectives had an eye on a suspect.

It would be 33 frustrating months before they could finally put the pieces together and arrest 22-year-old David Earl Williams, a repeat offender who has a rap sheet dating back a decade.

A recording of the robber's voice on a cell phone, a $50,000 reward, and jailhouse posters seeking tips from inmates led detectives back to the man they suspected of killing McCall as he walked home with a friend on a balmy August night nearly three years ago.

Williams was charged Wednesday with first degree murder, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery in connection to McCall's death. Williams was already serving a 15-year sentence in a South Florida prison for burglary and grand theft charges unrelated to McCall's slaying.

News of Williams' arrest brought little closure to McCall's family. The break in the cold case rekindled emotional battles for McCall's older brother, Kevin McCall.

"There is not an easy day," Kevin McCall said at a news conference Wednesday. "You wake up every morning and you think about it."

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said her department thought about McCall's killing every day, too. Detectives launched a "painstaking" investigation, she said, keeping at it long after the trail grew cold.

"The murder of Ryan McCall rocked our community," Castor said. "The paths of a student-athlete crossed with that of a hardened criminal."

The fatal encounter in the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2009, gave investigators a key piece of evidence they would use to later identify the shooter.

The cell phone recording was captured as McCall and a roommate, Michael Harahan, were walking home from the Retreat bar on Hyde Park Avenue after celebrating a friend's birthday.

The pair was headed to the house they rented on Ridgewood Avenue, north of the UT campus, through an area police said is known for violent crime.

McCall, 21, a UT cross country runner, was familiar with the area along North Boulevard as it crosses the Eugene Holtsinger Bridge. He and his teammates ran that route during training, former coach Jarrett Slaven said.

McCall and Harahan were held up at gunpoint on the north side of the bridge about 3 a.m., police said. Harahan, 21, was calling his brother when the robber approached and the robber's voice was recorded on the brother's voicemail.

"Get over here, get the (expletive) over here," the robber said. "Get over here."

Harahan was able to get away and call 911. McCall was shot. His body was found at the north foot of the bridge as it arches down from the Hillsborough River.

During the first two weeks of the investigation, detectives identified Williams as a person of interest but didn't have enough evidence to charge him in McCall's death, Castor said.

Over the next two years, a local law firm offered a $50,000 reward and officers passed out flyers with McCall's picture to residents of the neighborhood where the shooting took place.

The athlete's slaying haunted Tampa Det. Sal Augeri, one of the lead investigators.

"I looked at the poster every day for inspiration," Augeri said. "I was basically looking at it every day when I went to work."

But it was a different set of posters, displayed in the county's jails, that gave detectives the information they needed to arrest Williams, Castor said.

About 50 posters drawn up by the jail staff were taped up in common rooms and recreational areas at the Orient Road and Falkenburg Road jails, said Col. Jim Previtera, director of county jails.

The top of the poster asked inmates in big red letters, "Do You Know Who Killed Ryan McCall?"

It offered a $50,000 reward for "any information about the case that is deemed useful to detectives," along with "phone cards or canteen funds to be awarded."

The poster urged inmates to "do the right thing. Do it now."

About 10 tips were submitted a day later, in late 2010, Previtera said.

"But one of the tips in the jail proved to be the most significant and got the wheels turning," he said.

Previtera declined to provide details because of the ongoing investigation. He said he jumped on the chance to help crack the case because "the jail contains a wealth of information" and inmates can be prompted to step forward in certain circumstances.

"Sometimes the motivation is the reward," Previtera said. "Sometimes it's because the State Attorney's Office is pressing charges. And sometimes it's because they know it's the right thing to do."

The tips helped detectives focus on Williams, Castor said.

On May 23, Augeri and Det. Chuck Massucci traveled to the South Florida Reception Center in Doral, where Williams was being held, and interviewed him.

Williams admitted to confronting McCall and Harahan at the foot of the bridge, hitting Harahan on the head with a gun then robbing him, Castor said. He admitted going through both of the students' pockets, she said.

But Williams claimed another man shot and killed McCall. Castor does not believe him.

There is no indication that another person was with Williams during the crime, she said. And there's also the matter of the robber's urgent demands on Harahan's voicemail.

Williams' voice, Castor said, is a match.

He had been released from prison 27 days before McCall was killed, police said. After the slaying, Williams became a "one-man crime spree," burglarizing two homes and robbing two people in the Tampa area, Castor said.

He was convicted of those crimes in 2010 and transferred to the prison in Doral earlier this month from Lake Correctional Institution because of discipline problems, police said.

Records show Williams has been arrested 30 times since 2001.

"He's no model citizen by any stretch," Castor said.

Joe Ranalli, McCall's former roommate, said it felt surreal to see Williams' mug shot Wednesday.

"It was shocking to think that that's the guy who killed my best friend," said Ranalli, 23. "It makes you wonder what happened to that guy during his life, that made him that way."

Ranalli said McCall, Harahan and others were celebrating Ranalli's birthday the night of the slaying. Ranalli, 23, said he left the party early and took the same route that McCall and Harahan would take about 90 minutes later.

Ranalli was already home when Harahan burst into the house they rented and told him about the robbery. Ranalli ran toward the crime scene. He found McCall's body and called 911.

The gruesome image, he said, has never left him.

"I've had days when I would drive over that bridge, at night, and think to myself, 'This is where it all went down,'" Ranalli said.

The next steps, said McCall's brother Kevin, is to "let the justice system do its job" and to keep Ryan's memory alive. There is a scholarship at UT in his name and the McCalls have organized an annual 5K event called Ryan's Run.

"We want everybody to remember Ryan as the happy, good person that he was. He always wanted to give back," Kevin McCall said at Wednesday's news conference.

His parents stood behind him. His father, also named Kevin, held back tears, but his mother, Joanne, let them flow.

After the television cameras were turned off, Castor leaned over to Joanne McCall, embraced her and whispered in her ear.

"I wish we could bring him back."


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920 Reporter Elaine Silvestrini contributed to this report.
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