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Bloomingdale rape suspect's story fails early test

Judge Walter Heinrich addresses Kendrick Morris (hand raised) via a video feed in court Tuesday. Morris, 16, has been charged as an adult in two sexual battery incidents. 

KEN HELLE | Times

Judge Walter Heinrich addresses Kendrick Morris (hand raised) via a video feed in court Tuesday. Morris, 16, has been charged as an adult in two sexual battery incidents. 

TAMPA — Two witnesses saw Kendrick Morris sitting on a bench in front of the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library on April 24, shortly before detectives say the teenager brutally beat and raped an 18-year-old wearing a pearl necklace.

Detectives didn't find the necklace at the crime scene. But according to search warrants released Wednesday, they did find Morris' fingerprints on the bench and on a broken, bloody piece of a plastic utensil found on the library grounds.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office has charged Morris, 16, as an adult in connection with two rapes. Authorities say the Clair-Mel teen, who is 6 feet and 220 pounds, also sexually battered a 61-year-old woman at a day care near his home in June.

A judge on Wednesday ordered Morris to remain at the Orient Road Jail without bail. He faces nine felony charges and could get life in prison if convicted.

The 18-year-old victim is still hospitalized and in critical condition, prosecutor Michael Sinacore said Wednesday. She had broken bones in the front of her skull and around her right eye, records show.

Sheriff's detectives have not been able to interview her yet as a result, said spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

But they know she was attacked around 10:40 p.m. She had gone to the library in Valrico to return books at a night drop box. Talking on her cell phone with a friend, she said there was a weird-looking man sitting on the bench near the depository.

About two minutes later, the friend heard her scream. The call went dead.

Her family and friends hurried to the library, where they saw blood by her unoccupied car and found her lying unconscious 200 feet from the building.

Investigators think she might have been attacked in front of the library near her vehicle, then moved to the rear of the building where she was raped, according to a search warrant.

The search warrants provide a clearer picture of Morris' movements April 24.

He told detectives that he had been at the library, where he often played computer games and read science fiction, but he left at 9 p.m. He said he then walked a half-mile to McDonald's, arriving at 10 p.m.

Witnesses and video surveillance footage tell a different story.

One witness who recognized Morris by name from Bloomingdale High School, where he was a freshman, reported seeing the teen outside the library at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Another witness said she saw Morris there around 10 p.m. and wearing a dark-colored, hooded sweat shirt. She asked him if he was okay because he was alone.

Surveillance video from the McDonald's showed Morris arriving at 11:10 p.m. and leaving 20 minutes later. At 11:36 p.m., he entered a nearby Wal-Mart, video footage showed. He left at 12:30 a.m. and took a United Cab Co. taxi home.

In both videos, he wears a dark, hooded sweat shirt.

Sheriff's detectives first talked to Morris when he arrived at the crime scene at 10:30 a.m. on April 25. They arrested him at his home early the next day. While there, they collected a sample of Morris' saliva for DNA testing. His mother, Lisa Stevens, voluntarily turned over her son's clothing at the request of detectives.

Authorities noticed similarities between the April 24 attack and an unsolved rape from last year.

A 61-year-old woman was attacked from behind as she arrived at work at 5:30 a.m. on June 28 at the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center, located three blocks from Morris' home. A man matching Morris' description and armed with a knife forced the woman inside and demanded money. Then he sexually battered her, according to a search warrant.

The attacker wore a hood or mask that concealed his full identity, court documents state.

But authorities matched DNA samples collected from both rape victims to Morris.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Bloomingdale rape suspect's story fails early test 05/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 1:27pm]
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