TAMPA — Kendrick Morris looked back, saw her and mouthed the word "mom." It may have been the first time the 18-year-old Bloomingdale library rape suspect smiled in court.
Lisa Stevens took the stand Thursday to testify in a defense motion to suppress crucial evidence linking her son to the sexual attack of a teenage girl on April 24, 2008, one so brutal that she remains dependent on a wheelchair and a feeding tube.
Prosecutors say Morris' DNA links him to that victim and a previous one. His lawyers spent three days last week picking apart the Hillsborough County sheriff's investigation that led them to obtain it.
The focus, while Stevens testified: A detective's search of her son's room without a warrant. The fruits of that search are important; a state report says a confiscated jacket contained DNA traces of the victim.
The mother signed a consent form, but she now says detectives made her feel like she had no choice. Stevens' testimony Thursday conflicts with how detectives have described the search.
It was 4 a.m., she said. She was sleeping on the sofa. She heard a loud knock at the door. When she opened it, seven or eight officers poured into the house with flashlights. Outside, their cars lined the entire block.
They wanted her son.
She asked what was going on. Get him, she heard them say.
They encountered Morris in the hallway. She said she saw a detective put his hand on his gun, and heard the clicks of other weapons. They handcuffed him and took him away.
"They pretty much just kidnapped my son without telling me what was going on," she said.
She said some detectives lingered. They rummaged through his room, looking for clothing. She asked for a warrant, and they said one was coming. When they found a jacket that belonged to her, she said she told them not to take it, but they did anyway. After all of that, she said, they had her sign a consent form.
She said she feared getting in trouble. She felt she had to sign.
Detective Gary Harris describes it differently.
While the defense argues he lied about a warrant, Harris said talk of a warrant never came up. He said he sat down with the mother at a coffee table to talk about getting her consent before going into Morris' room. He called the exchange "pleasant."
"She was very helpful," Harris testified last week. "She led us back, showed us the bedroom, helped us search."
He had trouble distinguishing between two black hoodie jackets, he said. She told him it was okay to take both.
The defense alleges that authorities got Morris out of the house on purpose so that his mother, not he, could consent.
Attorneys will submit written arguments to a judge by June 1. Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe will rule by June 17.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.