Homeless man connected by DNA to death of Sarasota women early this year dies at county jail

Sarasota Police detectives believe William Devonshire responsible for second homicide, as well

William Devonshire. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division

A 52-year-old homeless man who was connected to the Feb. 25 death of a Sarasota woman has died in the Sarasota County Jail, both the Sarasota Police Department (SPD) and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced on June 6.

William Devonshire not only was a suspect in the late February incident, but Sarasota Police officers say they also believe he was involved in the death of a second woman whose body was discovered in North Sarasota earlier this year.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that Devonshire was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital on May 17, “following a medical event.” He was returned to the jail on May 27 and was under hospice care with a DNR — do not resuscitate order, the Sheriff’s Office news release explained.

Devonshire died around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, Douglas Johnson, the acting public information officer for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, told The Sarasota News Leader via email.

“Based on Devonshire’s recent medical event, detectives are confident he died from a medical-related illness; however, as always, an official cause of death will come from the Medical Examiner’s Office,” the Sheriff’s Office’s news release added.

“No additional updates are expected at this time,” the release noted.

In a separate June 6 news release, Genevieve Judge, public information officer for the Sarasota Police Department (SPD), pointed out that detectives with that agency would close out the first homicide case, dating to February, as well as the second one, which occurred in March, as a result of Devonshire’s death. With no suspect, Judge added, the State Attorney’s Office for the 12th Judicial District would be unable to proceed with one or more cases.

Nonetheless, “We have indisputable evidence that links Devonshire to both of the homicides that occurred in February and March of this year,” said Capt. Johnathan Todd of the Sarasota Police Department Criminal Investigations Division in Judge’s news release. “After analyzing the evidence in both homicides, we have determined that William Devonshire committed both crimes. Our detectives were in the process of writing a probable cause affidavit charging Devonshire with the murder of the second female victim in March of this year when we learned of his death,” Todd noted in the release.

Sarasota Police officers search in the vicinity of the 1900 block of North Tamiami Trail after the discovery of the body of a second woman in March. Photo courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Devonshire, who was arrested in March, was facing a charge of Murder in connection with the death of Kelliann Ripley, 48, of Sarasota, Judge wrote in the Police Department release. Ripley’s family had allowed SPD to identify her publicly as officers worked to solve the crime, Judge pointed out in that release.

Then-interim SPD Chief Rex Troche addressed both homicide cases during a news conference on March 28. At that time, he said that “the facts and evidence” related to the February incident and the death of the second 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, Troche emphasized.

The body of the second victim, who was 59, was found near the 1900 block of North Tamiami Trail, close to the shore of Whitaker Bayou, the department noted.

At that time, SPD reported that detectives had not determined whether the two women were acquainted. While the Feb. 25 victim “was an unhoused citizen,” as Judge explained in a press release, the other woman “was in between living with family members and was in the process of receiving housing.”

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

Troche’s press conference may be viewed on the Sarasota Police Department YouTube page at https://youtu.be/UCInGbSj6uc.

Ripley’s body was discovered in a wooded area in the 1100 block of North Tamiami Trail, Judge alerted the public in late February. On Feb. 26, 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,” Judge continued in a press release at that time.

A Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Correction Division document described Devonshire as being 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighting 220 pounds.

Evidence collected during Ripley’s autopsy was submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for analysis, Judge noted.

On March 15, Judge wrote, “Devonshire voluntarily gave a buccal swab to Sarasota Police officers.” A buccal swab, she explained, entails using a Q-tip to remove cells from the inside of a person’s mouth, for DNA comparison.

On Friday, March 25, SPD officers arrested Devonshire in Pioneer Park, which is located at 1260 12th St. in Sarasota. He was charged with trespassing, possession of cocaine, and possession of paraphernalia.

A day later, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) contacted the Sarasota Police Department to share that Devonshire’s DNA was a match to swabs collected from Ripley during her autopsy.

When the News Leader asked Judge on June 6 about obtaining copies of the two homicide reports, she responded that, after speaking with the detectives handling the case, she learned that the reports were incomplete. Therefore, she said, nothing could be released yet.

She noted that Devonshire’s death had occurred so recently that it would take a while for the detectives to close out the reports.

A long criminal history

At the time of Devonshire’s arrest, the Police Department noted that he had criminal histories in New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Ohio, Delaware and Florida, including charges of assault, aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, battery, burglary, and trespassing.

In 2005, SPD said, he was convicted of murder in Delaware.

This is the courthouse in Kent County, Delaware. Image courtesy of the State of Delaware

In researching that case, the News Leader found that, on Nov. 3, 2003, he was indicted on numerous charges, including Attempted Robbery in the First Degree; that incident allegedly occurred on Oct. 1, 2003, court documents show.

Then, on Jan. 5, 2004, Devonshire was indicted on counts of Murder First Degree and Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony, which allegedly occurred on April 3, 2003.

He made two attempts to delay his trial in the attempted robbery case until after he was tried on the murder charge, the Superior Court of Delaware for Kent County noted in an opinion that denied Devonshire’s second motion to stay the robbery proceedings. That decision was issued in June 2004.

Devonshire contended “that because the victim in the attempted robbery case [was] the same as the key witness in the murder case, the cases are not independent and he may be prejudiced,” the court explained in its ruling. “Specifically Defendant argues that he will be unable to cross-examine the victim of the attempted robbery on her alleged bias arising from statements made during the course of the murder investigation. The State opposes the motion.”

In its ruling on Devonshire’s first motion to delay the robbery trial, the Superior Court judges concluded that the lower court had the discretion to comply with Devonshire’s request. However, in its order on his second motion for a stay, the Superior Court judges explained, Devonshire contended that Kimberly M. Susi, “his former girlfriend/paramour and the alleged victim of the attempted robbery, was also a cooperating individual during the murder investigation and will presumably be a key witness in the murder trial.” Devonshire had asserted “that Susi provided false or inaccurate information to the police during the course of the murder investigation,” leading to his arrest, the opinion continued. He argued “that conducting the trial on the attempted robbery charge prior to the murder trial [could] preclude [him] from cross-examining Susi and other common witnesses for bias.”

The Superior Court judges wrote that they anticipated Susi would testify during the attempted robbery trial, so Devonshire would have “the opportunity to cross-examine her about anything relevant to the case, including any issue with respect to her alleged bias.”

Further, the judges pointed out, Devonshire had “failed to establish how he would be prejudiced by having the attempted robbery trial proceed first.”

Therefore, the Superior Court judges denied Devonshire’s second motion to delay his trial on attempted robbery until after the murder trial.

The News Leader was unable to find any further information regarding those cases.