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Second day of Dontae Morris trial brings more state witnesses

TAMPA — Several days after Rodney Jones took a bullet to the neck, Dontae Morris called his friend Ashley Price.

"I made a mistake," she recalls Morris saying.

Morris said he killed Jones, she said. He said he waited outside a club and shot Jones in the head.

On Tuesday, Price, 24, testified about that phone conversation in front of a jury that will decide if Morris is the man who fatally shot Jones outside the Cotton Club on May 31, 2010.

Morris, 27, faces a first-degree murder charge and life in prison, if convicted. He also has been charged with four other 2010 murders, including the shooting of two Tampa police officers.

Price went to detectives in late June 2010 to tell them about the conversation. On Tuesday, a prosecutor asked her: Why did Morris do it?

"For retaliation," said Price.

Jones had robbed Morris, said Price, who wore a bright orange jail jumpsuit on Tuesday.

She is currently incarcerated on several counts of violating probation for aggravated battery and burglary, as well as one new count of driving without a license.

This is the first murder trial for Morris.

On Tuesday, jurors also heard from Christine Bonner, who said she was at the Cotton Club the night Jones, 42, was shot.

She remembers seeing a few young men standing by the DJ booth. They stood out because most of the club's patrons are middle-aged, she testified.

The young men left before Jones, she said.

Several months later, when detectives showed her a bunch of photos, Bonner picked out the photo of Dontae Morris. He was one of the men standing by the DJ booth, she said.

The prosecution also introduced a former Tampa police fingerprint analyst, who said that though none of the usable fingerprints found at the scene matched Morris, that does not mean too much. Heat degrades fingerprints, Tonia D'Angelo said.

No fingerprint samples, DNA or other forensic evidence tie Morris to the Cotton Club murder. Investigators never recovered the gun.

On Monday and Tuesday, the prosecution brought in witnesses who said they remember seeing Morris at the club, though none of them got a good look at the shooter.

Circuit Judge William Fuente dismissed the jury about 11 a.m. because the remaining witnesses won't be available until today.

The 12 jurors and three alternates, who were selected in Orlando, have been sequestered this week in a hotel, where they are not allowed access to television or newspaper reports.

Fuente said he felt sorry for them and asked Hillsborough sheriff's deputies to take the group out to lunch so they wouldn't have to sit in their rooms all afternoon.

Several jurors smiled and nodded.

Then deputies took them to a little family-owned restaurant in the Palm River area: Liborios Latin Cafe.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Second day of Dontae Morris trial brings more state witnesses 03/12/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 10:39pm]
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