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Defense attorney wants much of the evidence in Tampa officers' deaths shielded from public

TAMPA — Dontae Morris' defense attorney doesn't want much of the evidence in the deaths of two Tampa police officers to be available to the public, including a video recording from an officer's dashboard camera that captured the shooting.

Its publication would "contaminate" the community and make it difficult to assemble an unbiased jury, defense attorney Byron Hileman said.

That wouldn't happen, attorney Gregg Thomas argued at a Friday hearing. Details about the case would dissipate in people's memories in the months — or years — before the case goes to trial, said Thomas, an attorney for Media General, which owns the Tampa Tribune.

And Hillsborough County has more than 800,000 residents, he said, suggesting that the court could request a large pool of potential jurors.

Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet will make the final decision on what evidence will be released and how it would be made available.

Morris is accused of shooting five people to death since he was released from jail in April. In addition to the June 29 shooting of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, Morris has been accused of slaying Harold Wright, Derek Anderson and Rodney Jones.

Thomas suggested the press and the public could view sensitive evidence in the same way as in the case of Humberto Delgado, who is accused of shooting Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts in 2009.

Video taken from police officers' dashboard cameras in that shooting was made available, but only for viewing at the courthouse with a clerk present.

The arrangement was intended to strike a balance between the public's right to review evidence, the defendant's right to a fair trial and sensitivity toward the victim's family.

Hileman said he's skeptical an arrangement like that would work. He said he's particularly concerned that witness statements meant for one case might be generalized to the other cases in which Morris is a defendant.

That kind of blurring can create the image that a defendant has a "propensity to be a bad guy," Hileman said.

The next hearing is scheduled for June 2, although the judge's decision could come before then.

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

Defense attorney wants much of the evidence in Tampa officers' deaths shielded from public 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 11:15pm]
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