Hillsborough judge orders Granville Ritchie, suspect in a child's murder, held without bond

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - A 35-year-old man suspected of killing a Temple Terrace girl was ordered held without bond Thursday on unrelated charges.

Granville Ritchie, who police have said they believe killed 9-year-old Felicia Williams, has not been charged in the death.

Almost 60 days have passed since the girl's body was found in Tampa Bay near the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Within a couple weeks, local law enforcement and FBI agents named Ritchie as a suspect.

Investigators never disclosed what evidence they had to link Ritchie to the crime. Also, Williams' autopsy report has not been released and won't be released until someone is arrested, charged and the autopsy findings become part of discovery.

Ritchie appeared in a Hillsborough County courtroom Thursday on three unrelated charges, including felony marijuana possession and having sex with a minor.

Judge Chet Tharpe’s order to hold Ritchie without bond inadvertently gives prosecutors more time to build a case against Ritchie for murder without having to worry he will flee.

Ritchie's defense attorney, Thomas Maiello, argued his client was not a flight risk and cooperated with police during the course of the investigation into the girl's disappearance.

Maiello noted that his client is a United States citizen and was facing more serious charges last year when he was granted bond and did not flee.

The third grader's mother appeared in court flanked by family members.

"I need justice for my daughter," said Felicia Demerson.

Demerson, who spoke with her attorney by her side, told ABC Action News she's relieved by the judge's decision to keep Ritchie behind bars.

Demerson's daughter was last seen May 16 playing at an apartment complex.

"She will be missed by many," Demerson said.

MURDER CHARGES STILL NOT FILED

Demerson wants closure and ultimately wants to see Ritchie charged. She is left to question if and when she will see a suspect in court.

"The first thing they need is evidence and there seems to be a clear question, is there enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ritchie was the perpetrator?" said John Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor.

Fitzgibbons, who is not associated with this case, thinks prosecutors are doing the smart thing by taking their time building a case.

"Once the charges are filed, a time clock starts under the Speedy Trial Act. So you better be ready, as a prosecutor, when you file those charges. You better be ready to tee it up and go to trial," he said.

He also addressed why the public and the girl's family may be anxious that charges have not yet been filed, a result of what he referred to as the "CSI Effect."

The American Bar Association defines the "CSI Effect" as the "phenomenon whereby high-tech, forensic science dramatized in television crime dramas such as CSI, Law & Order, and Forensic Files theoretically promotes unrealistic expectations among jurors of how apparently clearly and definitely forensic evidence can determine innocence or guilt or, from the perspective of the civil litigator, causation or liability."

"Because the body was in the water, that can cause evidence to be destroyed," Fitzgibbons said.

Fitzgibbons explained that in real life, cases can take months or even years to build and that cases are not solved in 45 minutes like they are on television.

CELLPHONE SEARCH IN QUESTION

Another piece of evidence proving troublesome in Ritchie's case is information detectives obtained from his cellphone.

Investigators never disclosed what they found but did say it led them to name Ritchie a suspect in the girl's murder and allowed them to arrest Ritchie on three unrelated charges.

Defense attorneys are arguing that evidence should not be admissible in court because detectives obtained it without a search warrant. Prosecutors contend that there were warrants, just that they were sealed.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last year, just like the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month, that police are required to get a warrant before searching a suspect's cellphone.

"If there is an improper seizure, then not only would the evidence contained in the cellphone be suppressed but all leads or fruits of that illegal search are suppressed. So, this could be a devastating blow to the state's case if that is indeed what happened," Fitzgibbons said.

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