TAMPA — The family of little Felecia Williams stifled a cheer as the ruling was handed down.
Granville Ritchie, the man police have named as their main suspect in the 9-year-old’s death, will remain in the Hillsborough County jail without bail, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe decided during a hearing Thursday morning.
Ritchie, 35, has not been charged in Felecia’s death, but police say he was one of the last people to see her alive at his Temple Terrace apartment May 16. Her nude body was found floating near the Courtney Campbell Causeway the next day.
Felecia’s mother, grandmother, older sister and several other family members were in the courtroom during the hearing, some of them wearing lanyards around their neck displaying photos of the third-grader they called “Sugar Plum.”
“I’m glad that the judge made the right decision,” said the girl’s mother, Felecia Demerson.
She and her lawyer, Ariel Garcia, declined to reveal what details Temple Terrace police have provided them about the investigation into Felecia’s death, saying they don’t want to compromise the case. But Demerson said she was relieved Ritchie will be staying in jail for a while and that her faith in God has carried her through the nearly two months since she saw her daughter the last time.
The family trusts that law enforcement will build a case against Felecia’s killer, Garcia said.
“I believe it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s been a long road, but we’ve been patient.”
Ritchie has been in jail since May 21 when he was arrested in St. Petersburg on unrelated drug charges. In Hillsborough, he faces charges of felony marijuana possession and having sex with a minor.
Ritchie’s lawyer, Thomas Maiello, argued that he should be granted a fair and reasonable bail because he had never been convicted of a crime and cooperated with Temple Terrace police the first time they called him in to talk about Felecia’s disappearance.
But Temple Terrace police detectives said that during the course of the investigation into the slaying, they discovered Ritchie had sex with a 17-year-old girl four times between April 15 and May 4. That’s a crime, and coupled with the marijuana charge they amount to a violation of conditions in a pre-trial intervention program Ritchie was set to enter after an unrelated February drug arrest, Tharpe said.
Because of the violation, Ritchie will remain in jail without bail on the sex charge and marijuana charge, Tharpe said. The judge also revoked Ritchie’s bail for the February arrest.
Another hearing is scheduled Monday morning to appoint Ritchie a new defense lawyer.
Felecia, who was a student at Edison Elementary School, disappeared May 16.
Eboni Wiley, who told police she was a friend of Felecia’s family, picked the girl up from her East Tampa home, drove her to get some food at a Checker’s restaurant then drove to Ritchie’s Temple Terrace apartment.
Ritchie sent Wiley to buy drugs so Felecia was left alone with him about 35 minutes, investigators said in a search warrant affidavit. When Wiley returned to the apartment, Felecia was gone.
Ritchie who agreed to be interviewed by police shortly after Felecia’s disappearance and before his arrest in Pinellas County. He gave a different version of events, according to the affidavit.
Ritchie told police he and Wiley put on a movie for Felecia then went into a bedroom to have sex. When they came out 45 minutes later, the girl was gone and the front door was unlocked.
Ritchie told police he then dropped Wiley off at her house and drove to his girlfriend’s town home in
A search of the town home May 23 turned up no evidence in the death investigation, records show.
Police ask that anyone with information about the case come forward. A combined $13,000 reward has been offered from Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay and the FBI for anyone who provides a tip that leads to an arrest.