52-year-old homeless man charged in Feb. 25 homicide in Sarasota, with evidence potentially linking him to second city murder, interim police chief says

William Devonshire in jail without bond in homicide case

Photo courtesy of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division

A 52-year-old Sarasota man has been arrested and charged with Homicide in connection with the Feb. 25 death of a woman whose body was found near the Centennial Park boat ramp, located in the 1000 block of North Tamiami Trail, the Sarasota Police Department has announced.

Interim Police Chief Rex Troche said during a March 28 news conference that “the facts and evidence” related to that incident and a second death investigation, regarding a deceased woman whose body was discovered on March 10, “lead us to believe the cases are related.”

“There is a very strong correlation” between the evidence collected in both incidents, he pointed out.

Officers are continuing to follow leads and trying to determine whether the suspect, William Jeffrey Devonshire — who was listed as a “transient” in the Police Department’s Probable Cause Affidavit — knew both victims, Troche said.

Asked whether investigators are aware of a motive in the Feb. 25 case, Troche replied, “I have no idea.”

In response to another question, Troche said Devonshire was not being very cooperative with officers.

Devonshire also has been charged with possession of cocaine, possession of drug equipment and trespassing. Officers had been keeping him under surveillance, Troche said, because they had developed leads indicating that he was a suspect.

Therefore, officers were able to arrest him when he entered Pioneer Park on March 25, as Devonshire had been trespassed from that facility, Troche added.

The park is located at 1260 12th St. in Sarasota.

Pioneer Park is located on 12th Street in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

Devonshire is being held in the Sarasota County Jail without bond on the Homicide charge, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division records note. The bond set on the other charges totals $6,000; $5,000 of that is associated with the cocaine count.

His arraignment on all charges is scheduled for April 29, the Corrections Division records add.

On March 17, the Police Department issued a news release, pointing out that the second victim, a 59-year-old Sarasota woman, was found dead near the 1900 block of North Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, near the shore of Whitaker Bayou.

“It’s unknown if the two women knew one another or if the suspect or suspects knows the victims,” the release said at the time.

The victim in the Feb. 25 case “was an unhoused citizen,” that report pointed out. The second victim “was in between living with family members and was in the process of receiving housing,” the release added.

Interim Chief Rex Troche listens to a question during the press conference on March 28. Photo taken from a Police Department video

The first case “was solved using science and technology,” but also with officers working long hours, even on weekends, interim Chief Troche said during the press conference this week.

On March 15, Devonshire voluntarily gave a buccal swab to Sarasota Police officers, Troche said. (A buccal swab entails the use of a Q-tip inside a person’s mouth to collect cells for DNA comparison, a March 28 Police Department news release explained.)

On Saturday, March 26, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) informed the Sarasota Police Department that Devonshire’s DNA was a match to swabs collected from the Feb. 25 victim during her autopsy, Troche said.

With the permission of family members, Troche identified the Feb. 25 victim as Kelliann Ripley.

On Feb. 26, Troche said, the 12th District Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Ripley’s death was a result of “homicidal violence caused by blunt force trauma and manual strangulation.”

The Sheriff’s Office’s Corrections Division records put Devonshire’s height at 6 feet 4 inches and his weight at 220 pounds.

This is a view of the Centennial Park boat ramp. Image from the Visit Sarasota County website

In response to a question about officers obtaining Devonshire’s DNA sample, Troche pointed out that, as officers make contact with individuals during routine patrols, they will at times ask for voluntary buccal swabs.

He also noted that members of the department’s Homeless Outreach Team have been involved in the effort to solve both homicides.

The March 17 Sarasota Police Department news release said that on March 15, “[T]he Sarasota Police Department Emergency Response Team (ERT) was activated to search for evidence not far from the North Tamiami Trail corridor,” and the Homeless Outreach Team, which comprises case managers and Sarasota Police personnel, was “conducting increased patrols and outreach throughout the community to offer services to those individuals who are interested.”

Sarasota Police Department officers search along North Tamiami Trail on March 15. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

During the press conference, Troche extended the department’s appreciation to other law enforcement partners who assisted with the investigation, including FDLE, the FBI, the State Attorney’s Office of the 12th Judicial Circuit, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Anyone with information that could be related to the two cases is asked to call the Sarasota Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at 941-263-6070, leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS, or going online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.

A long criminal history

Devonshire has criminal histories in New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Ohio, Delaware, and Florida, including charges of assault, aggravated harassment, disorderly contact, battery, burglary, and trespassing, the March 28 news release noted.

He was charged in 2003 and convicted in 2005 of murder in Delaware, it added.

The first case The Sarasota News Leader found in a search of 12th Judicial Circuit Court records in Sarasota dates to November 2013. In that incident, Devonshire — who was described as homeless — was charged with one count of Domestic Battery.

The Sheriff’s Office deputy who wrote the report explained that he was driving south on South Indiana Avenue. When he reached the intersection of East Dearborn Street, he added, he heard a persistent vehicle horn. Looking east, the deputy continued, he saw a 1995 Dodge Stratus at the traffic light with the passenger door “wide open.”

This is another photo of William Devonshire included in Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division records. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

“Several seconds later,” the report continued, the deputy “observed the victim jump out of the passenger seat and run off to the side of the road.”

The deputy activated his emergency lights and pulled in behind the vehicle, which had stopped, the report added.

When the deputy spoke with the driver — Devonshire —Devonshire told the deputy that he and the victim had become engaged in an altercation over financial issues and that he had grabbed the victim “because he was concerned about her getting out of the vehicle and walking down the street by herself.”

The vehicle was still moving at the time, Devonshire added. The physical altercation occurred, he said, when he attempted to prevent her from leaving the vehicle.

The victim told the deputy that Devonshire had “grabbed her by the back of her head and started to punch her.” Additionally, the report said, the victim recounted to the deputy that Devonshire had told her to perform an oral sex act on him and that when she refused, he grabbed her and pushed her head down toward his crotch. At that point, she continued, she started to blow the vehicle horn and was able to exit the vehicle.

The deputy wrote that he observed cuts on the victim’s upper and lower lips and that the left side of her face was swollen.

Finally, in February 2014, the State Attorney’s Office filed a form with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, asking that the misdemeanor battery charge in that case be modified to a charge of Felony Battery after Prior Conviction, and a new Circuit Court case was created.

In another case, reported just after midnight on Dec. 11, 2015 at 800 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, Devonshire was charged with a felony count of Simple Battery-Second or Subsequent Offense.

That time, the report said, officers were en route to a call about a domestic dispute when a woman came running up to their vehicle as they were heading west on 10thStreet in Sarasota.

She was “almost in tears,” telling them that Devonshire had run his bicycle into her, pushing her down into the bushes on the side of the road, that report pointed out.

“The victim had red marks on her face and scuff marks on her jeans from where she hit the ground,” the report noted.

On Jan. 21, 2016, court records show, the State Attorney’s Office filed a form saying that it was declining to pursue the case.

The most recent incident involving Devonshire, in 12th Judicial Circuit Court records, prior to the charges this week occurred on Oct. 8, 2021 at the intersection of 10th Street and Central Avenue. Devonshire was charged with a felony count of Possession of Controlled Substance after personnel with the Sarasota Police Department saw a woman hand “suspected crack cocaine” to Devonshire.

This map shows the area of Central Avenue and 10th Street. Image from Google Maps

At the time, the report said, “[M]embers of the Sarasota Police Department Community Action Team, Narcotics Unit and Homeless Outreach Team [were conducting] a pre-planned operation targeting street level narcotics activity in the area [of 10th Street and Central Avenue].”

The report added that Devonshire “was in possession of (7 pieces) [of] suspected crack cocaine.”

A trial on the charge was scheduled for May 31 of this year, court records show.