Ritchie v. State, SC20-1422

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
PartiesGRANVILLE RITCHIE, Appellant, v. STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.
Decision Date09 June 2022
Docket NumberSC20-1422



No. SC20-1422

Supreme Court of Florida

June 9, 2022


An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Hillsborough County, Deborah Michelle Sisco, Judge Case No. 292014CF011992000AHC

Howard L. "Rex" Dimmig, II, Public Defender, Rachel Paige Roebuck and Steven L. Bolotin, Assistant Public Defenders, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, Florida, for Appellant

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, and Rick A. Buchwalter, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Appellee


Granville Ritchie appeals his convictions and sentences, including his judgment of conviction of first-degree murder and his sentence of death. We have jurisdiction, see art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const., and for the reasons below affirm Ritchie's convictions and sentences.


Ritchie sexually battered and strangled to death the nine-year-old child victim in this case, F.W., who had been left in Ritchie's care by a friend of the child's family. Ritchie then dumped the


victim's body in the water off of the Courtney Campbell Causeway and fabricated a story about her disappearance. The victim's body was found washed up against the shoreline the day after she had been left alone with Ritchie, and Ritchie was later arrested and indicted on three counts of alleged crimes against the victim: (1) first-degree murder; (2) sexual battery of a victim less than twelve years of age by a defendant over the age of eighteen; and (3) aggravated child abuse. Ritchie's jury found him guilty as charged on all three counts. As to first-degree murder, the jury found that the killing was both premeditated murder and felony murder.

Although Ritchie does not concede guilt, he concedes in his initial brief that the evidence presented at trial is legally sufficient to support all three of his convictions. The trial court summarized that evidence in its sentencing order as follows:

On May 16, 2014, [Ritchie] and Eboni Wiley picked up the child-victim, [F.W.], from her home in Tampa. Ms. Wiley was a friend of the victim's family, and she and [Ritchie] had recently become involved in a romantic relationship. After retrieving the victim from her home, [Ritchie] drove Ms Wiley and the victim to a fast food drive-through, to get food for the child-victim, and then to his mother's apartment in Temple Terrace [where Ritchie also lived]. Upon arrival, [Ritchie] provided Ms. Wiley with "Molly," a drug similar in its effects to Ecstasy. After a short time at the apartment, [Ritchie] sent Ms
Wiley from the apartment to procure marijuana for him. Ms. Wiley initially attempted to take the victim with her to make the purchase of marijuana. However, [Ritchie] intervened and instructed Ms. Wiley to leave the child-victim with him at the apartment because Ms. Wiley had no driver's license and would have drugs in the car. Ms. Wiley relented and agreed to leave young [F.W.] alone and in [Ritchie's] care.
While alone with [F.W.], [Ritchie] brutally attacked her, stripped her of her clothing, and sexually battered her. During the sexual battery, [Ritchie] violently inflicted blunt force injury to the victim's head and body and caused several injuries, both external and internal, to her genitals by forcefully penetrating the child-victim's vagina with his penis. In the course of the attack, [Ritchie] manually strangled the child-victim with such force that he caused extensive injuries to her neck, including damage to the deep internal muscular and cartilaginous structures. [F.W.] eventually died as a result of the strangulation. Following the victim's death, [Ritchie] proceeded to conceal his actions by hiding the victim's body from discovery and informing Ms. Wiley that the child-victim had left the apartment to buy candy at a nearby pharmacy. Not finding the child-victim at the store, Ms. Wiley returned to the apartment, where she and [Ritchie] fabricated a story concerning the victim's whereabouts. [Ritchie] also contacted his mother, and informed her that the victim was missing and advised her regarding the fabricated story, in the event she was questioned by law enforcement.
Later that evening, [Ritchie] drove Ms. Wiley back to Tampa and dropped her off. He then returned to the apartment and placed the victim's body in a rolling suitcase in order to relocate the body for disposal. [Ritchie] then rolled the suitcase out of the apartment and to the vehicle he was driving, where he placed the suitcase containing the victim's body into the trunk of
the car. [As established by red light camera footage and cell tower data, Ritchie] then proceeded to drive away from the apartment late that night, travelling across Hillsborough County, through the City of Tampa toward Clearwater, across the Courtney Campbell Causeway. Shortly after crossing the main bridge of the causeway, [Ritchie] entered onto a side access road running along the north side of the causeway. After travelling approximately two miles down the access road, [Ritchie] came to an area of thick vegetation that provided concealment from the main road of the causeway. It was at this location that [Ritchie] removed the suitcase from the trunk of the vehicle, retrieved the child-victim's body from the suitcase, and dumped her into the dark waters of the bay. After disposing of the victim's body, [Ritchie] travelled to St. Petersburg to stay the night at the home of another girlfriend . . . . At some point, [Ritchie] disposed of the victim's clothing and the suitcase used to transport her body.
While [Ritchie] was actively attempting to conceal any evidence of his rape and murder of [F.W.], law enforcement and the victim's family met with Ms. Wiley in Temple Terrace, near the location of the crime. Ms. Wiley initially advised law enforcement and the victim's family as to the fabricated story concocted by [Ritchie], that she had taken the victim to visit a friend of hers, and while at that location, the child had run away from her friend's apartment. At first, Ms. Wiley made no mention of [Ritchie] ever having involvement with the child-victim. However, after extensive questioning by law enforcement, Ms. Wiley finally yielded, and admitted that she and [Ritchie] had taken the victim to [Ritchie's] apartment, where the child-victim disappeared while in [Ritchie's] care. After the discovery of [Ritchie's] identity, law enforcement made contact with him and ultimately placed [Ritchie] into custody. On May 17, 2014, [F.W.'s] body was recovered on the north side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Old Tampa Bay, in the same
approximate location [Ritchie] had dumped her, washed up against the rocky shoreline of the causeway.

Following the guilt-phase verdict, Ritchie's case proceeded to a penalty phase on the first-degree murder conviction. After hearing evidence and argument from the State and Ritchie, the jury unanimously found that the State had established beyond a reasonable doubt the following three aggravating factors: (1) the victim of the capital felony was a person less than twelve years of age, (2) the capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of a sexual battery, and (3) the capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel (HAC). The jury further unanimously found that the aggravating factors proven by the State beyond a reasonable doubt are sufficient to warrant a possible sentence of death. One or more individual jurors found that one or more mitigating factors were established by the greater weight of the evidence. The jury then unanimously found that the aggravating factors proven by the State beyond a reasonable doubt outweigh the established mitigating circumstances. Finally, the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty.


After holding a Spencer[1] hearing at which neither party presented additional witnesses or evidence, the trial court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Ritchie to death.[2] In its sentencing order, the trial court found that the State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt all three of the aggravating factors found by the jury. The trial court assigned great weight to each aggravator and further found the aggravating factors sufficient to warrant the imposition of a death sentence. Regarding mitigation, the trial court rejected several of Ritchie's proposed statutory and nonstatutory mitigating circumstances, but found and assigned moderate weight to the statutory mitigating circumstance that Ritchie had no significant history of prior criminal activity. The trial court also found and assigned the noted weight to the following nonstatutory mitigating circumstances: (1) defendant suffered


mental and physical abuse by his father and defendant's father was often absent because of four different families (moderate weight); (2) defendant was raised in a poverty-stricken and violent neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica (little weight); (3) defendant was the oldest of eighteen siblings and helped raised them (little weight); (4) defendant was gainfully employed at various jobs (little weight); and (5) defendant was kind and generous to others and possesses other positive redeeming qualities (little weight). In imposing the death sentence, the trial court found that the aggravating factors "heavily outweigh" the mitigating circumstances.

Ritchie now appeals.


In this direct appeal, Ritchie challenges his sentence of death.[3]He argues that he is entitled to a new penalty phase because (1) the


cumulative impact of improper comments by the prosecutor during the penalty phase closing argument deprived him of a fair penalty phase; (2) Florida law regarding the presentation of victim...

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