Death Penalty Upheld in Temple Terrace Case

June 20, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

A conviction of capital punishment, or the death penalty, was upheld this week for a man convicted of first-degree murder. Granville Ritchie, 41, was charged and found guilty of raping and killing a 9-year-old girl in 2014.

The decision for the death sentence was unanimous, but an appeal was made by the defense team for potential improper behavior by the prosecution. This last Thursday, there was an opinion released in an official document, stating that there was no legal basis found by the court to overturn Ritchie’s death sentence.

We will cover the details of the incident, the first sentencing in 2019, and the potential issues with the prosecution, along with an overview of prosecutorial misconduct in a criminal case.

What was the Incident?

On May 16th, 2014 Felecia Williams left her home in Tampa with her family friend, Eboni Wiley. Wiley had supposedly met Richie previously and was considered “instantly smitten.” Wiley had taken Williams to Richie’s mother’s apartment in Temple Terrace.

Shortly after arriving, Richie told Wiley to go out and buy marijuana, which left 9-year-old Williams alone with the man. After Wiley returned almost an hour later, Williams was nowhere to be found. Ritchie claimed he gave her money to go buy candy from a nearby CVS and never returned.

Prosecutors believe that Ritchie raped and then strangled the young girl while Wiley was gone. When the Temple Terrace police first investigated the case as a missing person’s case, Wiley told them that Williams ran off after having sex with Ritchie in the bedroom. However, police were able to track Ritchie’s cell phone signal the night she went missing, which was moving west through Tampa. Williams’ body was found the next day. The prosecution believed that Ritchie stored her body in a suitcase until he was able to dump her nude body into the bay.

Wiley was arrested for lying to the police during a missing person’s investigation, and Ritchie was arrested for first-degree murder, capital sexual battery, and aggravated child abuse. Due to several aggravating factors—including Felicia’s age of only 9-years-old, and Ritchie’s behavior of sexual battery while choking her, which was considered “extreme or outrageous depravity,” Ritchie was faced with the potential sentence of capital punishment.

Sentence from 2019 Upheld

Ritchie was given the death sentence from a unanimous decision on September 11th, 2020. Due to court shutdowns from COVID-19, the formal sentencing was delayed for almost a year. 13th Circuit Court Judge Michelle Sisco said the following after Ritchie’s sentencing: “There will be no corporeal redemption for you—your physical being, your person. You will remain incarcerated until the date of your death is scheduled to occur.”

Felecia Demerson, mother of 9-year-old Felecia Williams, stood in front of the courtroom on the day of the sentencing. She claimed her only regret was that Ritchie would not be hanged, to experience the same death as her daughter who had been choked to death.

“I’ve just wanted 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.”

The court had to reassess the death sentence this June after the defense claimed that there were legal grounds to overturn the death sentence. In the official document issued by Ritchie’s defense, it provides details of their attempt to appeal his conviction and sentence.

Potential Issues with Prosecution

One of the criticisms made by the defense in their appeal was that Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon, the lead prosecutor in the case, had made several questionable statements in his closing argument during the trial’s penalty hearing.

The comments that the defense was arguing against were implying that the jury should not extend any mercy to the defendant since he showed no mercy to Williams. In addition, there was also the issue of the prosecution highlighting Ritchie’s Jamaican background. The prosecutor’s rhetoric had been interpreted as anti-immigrant, which the justices said these statements have no place in the courtroom.

However, the court found that even though some of the comments came across as improper, the majority of the prosecution’s arguments were properly argued based on the provided evidence. The court stated that the jury’s finding in favor of the death sentence came from the “horrific and senseless crimes against the victim” rather than the comments given by the prosecution team.

Ultimately the majority decision upheld the initial sentence, which means that Ritchie will remain on death row. There is still the option of taking his case to the federal system or attempting to bring new claims to the Florida appeals court.

The prosecution getting accused of improper comments brings up the topic of misconduct among the prosecuting team.

What is Prosecutorial Misconduct?

For a criminal prosecution, the top priority is meant to be that justice is served, and not just that a case is won. This means it is the duty of the prosecution to ensure that a criminal case is fair. To engage in prosecutorial misconduct would mean that they have improperly or illegally acted in such a way that causes the defendant to be punished unjustifiably.

There are various forms of prosecutorial misconduct. The control that the prosecution has over a case includes being a part of the investigation, deciding which charges to seek for the defendant, and recommending the sentence after the conviction.

The following are actions that are considered prosecutorial misconduct:

  • Using “entrapment” and inducing an individual to commit a crime;
  • To push criminal charges against someone as a way to retaliate and just hoping to win a conviction;
  • Providing comments or statements to the media that could be prejudice the jury pool;
  • Engaging in plea-bargaining by providing a defendant with false promises so they plead guilty;
  • Refusing to hand over exculpatory evidence;
  • Tampering with evidence;
  • Providing false evidence or a false witness testimony;
  • Asking the defendant or defense witness suggestive and damaging questions without any factual basis;
  • Giving improper statements in front of the jury—which includes providing personal opinion on the credibility of testimony or the defendant’s guilt, providing facts that are not a part of the evidence, or criticizing the defendant for exercising his or her right not to testify.

In the event that there is sufficient proof of prosecutorial misconduct, then the results can include a mistrial or the dismissal of charges. In addition, the misconduct can be raised by an appeal or collateral attack on the conviction, through a petition for habeas corpus.

A skilled Florida defense attorney can help you navigate the legal process and determine if there has been any prosecutorial misconduct.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is imperative that you seek out the legal guidance of a skilled defense attorney. Getting hit with a criminal charge can be extremely stressful. Florida has harsh penalties for a criminal conviction, which can include expensive fines and potential jail time. If you’re in search of legal guidance, Don Pumphrey and our team at Pumphrey Law Firm can help. We have experience representing clients all across the state of Florida for various charges and understand the importance of strategizing a strong defense. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.

 Written by Karissa Key

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