The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Hillsborough County man convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering a 9-year-old girl and dumping her body in water off the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
The court rejected a series of arguments raised by Granville Ritchie, who was convicted in the 2014 murder of the girl, identified in the court opinion by the initials F.W., Felecia Williams.
The girl’s body was found washed up on a shoreline a day after she had been left alone with Ritchie.
A key part of the Supreme Court opinion involved whether Ritchie should receive a new sentencing hearing because of improper comments made by a prosecutor during the case.
But the court’s majority, while acknowledging improper comments, said Ritchie should not receive a new hearing.
“In sum, we cannot say that the improper arguments precluded Ritchie’s jury from making a reasoned assessment based on the evidence so as to amount to a denial of due process,” said the opinion shared by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Alan Lawson, Carlos Muniz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans. “Rather, viewing the record in its totality, it was the evidence of Ritchie’s horrific and senseless crimes against the victim, not the prosecutor’s missteps, that secured the recommendation of death.” Justice Ricky Polston agreed with the outcome of the majority opinion but did not sign onto it.
Justice Jorge Labarga argued that Ritchie should receive a new sentencing hearing.
“The evidence in this case established that Ritchie committed a horrific murder, and I fully concur in the majority’s decision to affirm his conviction for first-degree murder,” Labarga wrote. “It is in light of this horrific crime, though, that the prosecutor was duty-bound to take great care — to ensure that the jury’s recommendation of life or death was based on the facts and not on inflammatory and improper arguments.”
Ritchie, now 43, is an inmate at Union Correctional Institution, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.