Cortnee Brantley to spend a year in federal prison

TAMPA — Cortnee Brantley didn't fire the bullets that killed two Tampa police officers on June 29, 2010.

But she will be the first to serve prison time on a charge spawned by the events of that tragic day.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., who once threw out the federal case against Brantley, sentenced her Monday to a year and a day in custody for failing to warn authorities that her boyfriend, Dontae Morris, was a felon with a loaded gun.

The sentencing hearing elicited Brantley's first public comments about the deaths of Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.

She spoke only briefly, at first shaking her head when defense attorney Grady Irvin invited her to the lectern. Finally, she stood.

"I just want to let the families of the officers know I am truly sorry," she said.

"I am remorseful.

"I feel bad."

Brantley, 25, arrived in court with a shorn head, an act of solidarity with her mother, who, according to Irvin, recently endured chemotherapy and radiation for cancer treatment.

Her mother sat in the courtroom. So did a contingent of police officers, including Tampa police Chief Jane Castor.

Brantley dabbed at her eyes with a tissue as she heard testimony by survivors of Curtis and Kocab.

Widow Kelly Curtis told of teaching her 12-year-old son to shave, with three more fatherless boys in waiting. Sandra Kocab described the "overwhelming grief" of losing a son. Cindy Warren, Curtis' mother, talked about Brantley's poor choices.

"Cortnee chose to drive off and leave Dave and Jeff dying in the dark," Warren said.

"What kind of person makes a choice like that?"

That question has never been fully answered.

In asking for a two-year sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston described Brantley as a woman clinging to "antisocial fidelity," a reference to her allegiance to Morris.

In the summer of 2010, while a massive manhunt for Morris was under way, he and Brantley coordinated through phone calls and text messages to hide the car she drove, which was involved in the roadside shooting. A jury would later interpret that as an act of complicity by Brantley.

"This defendant was, is, at war with our society," Preston said. "We see no remorse."

Court officials know more about Brantley's background than the public likely ever will. Her pre-sentence investigation remains confidential, as is typically the case. New documents under seal landed in the court file Monday. The only hint of their content: Irvin reminded Judge Moody of "traumatic consequences that affect" Brantley.

Irvin also said that Brantley had been abused by Morris and had witnessed abuse. At the time of the police shootings, she thought she was pregnant.

The judge refused to cast Brantley as a victim.

"We all make choices," Moody said. "Some are misguided. Some are misguided because of who we choose to love or be associated with."

For more than two years, Moody brought skepticism to the government's case against Brantley, saying that the public's appetite for justice cannot go beyond the law. He explained more than once that an act could outrage society and still not be illegal.

He initially dismissed the obscure charge, called misprision of a felony, only to have an appeals court order it reinstated.

When a jury returned a guilty verdict early this year — after a mistrial last year — Moody took three weeks to analyze the panel's likely logic before entering a judgment against Brantley.

He found the verdict plausible "by the thinnest of legal threads."

But, on Monday, as he prepared to impose the sentence, his eyes glistened and his voice thickened. He paused longer than usual between sentences.

"It was an emotional issue for me, just like it was for everybody else," he said afterward.

Twelve months was the minimum sentence he could have given Brantley under the guidelines he adopted. Because he added an additional day, she will be eligible for gain time, which could shorten the sentence to about 10 months, Irvin said.

Brantley, who was earlier released on bail, was not immediately taken into custody and will surrender later for prison.

The state's case against Morris, now 27, is expected to go to trial in November before a jury in the Orlando area.

Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Cortnee Brantley to spend a year in federal prison 06/03/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 12:40am]

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