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Defense picks apart search warrant in Bloomingdale rape case

TAMPA — His DNA links him to the rapes of two women, prosecutors say, including a teenage girl at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library two years ago. His attorneys want it thrown out.

On Tuesday, public defenders representing 18-year-old Kendrick Morris picked apart the search warrant used to obtain his saliva sample, saying the warrant contained false statements and omitted facts with "at least reckless disregard for the truth."

Prosecutors say innocent mistakes aren't enough to invalidate a warrant, and the defense can't prove deception.

The DNA is just part of the evidence the defense asked Hills­borough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe to suppress in a 76-page motion being heard this week. They also want him to throw out statements Morris made before being read his Miranda rights while in custody as a runaway and clothing they say the Sheriff's Office improperly obtained from his home.

The stakes are high. The evidence involved is crucial to the prosecution's case.

Prosecutors say the 18-year-old victim was talking to a friend on her cell phone just after 10 p.m. as she dropped off books the night of April 24, 2008. The victim told her friend she saw a "weird guy." The friend heard a scream and the call was cut off.

The victim's car was found parked at the book drop, still running, with blood drops on the door. She was found in a field next to the library, half naked, beaten and unresponsive. Today, she depends on a feeding tube and a wheelchair and has no memory of the moment that changed her life.

Morris' DNA was found on the victim, prosecutors say. It also linked him to the 2007 sexual assault of a day care worker.

The day after the attack, a judge signed a search warrant submitted by Hillsborough County sheriff's Detective Geoffrey Harris to obtain a saliva sample from Morris. In it, the detective gave these facts:

Morris was seen sitting in front of the library by someone who recognized him by name from Bloomingdale High School. Upon being questioned, Morris said he left the library at 9 p.m., walked to a McDonald's half a mile away and got there at 10 p.m. Another witness observed a "young black male" sitting in front of the library at about 10 p.m.

The problems, according to the defense:

Morris told authorities he waited outside until at least 9:45 p.m., which wouldn't conflict with the witness who saw him at about 9:30 p.m. The distance between the library and McDonald's is more than a mile. The initial witness learned Morris' full name only when presented with a photo identification at school, though he knew him as "Kenny." And the second witness initially described the person she saw as Hispanic, not black, though she later identified Morris through a photograph.

In its motion, the defense lists what it considers 11 mistakes.

In a response, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters writes that law enforcement found ample evidence to establish probable cause. Witnesses saw only Morris at the scene shortly before the rape. Fingerprints place him there.

She defends the investigation as a whole in that response, saying deputies didn't need to read Morris his rights when they questioned him as a runaway, the warrant is valid and Morris' mother consented to allow authorities to search his bedroom.

Assistant Public Defender Rocky West Brancato asked the detective why he didn't note that the suspect was a frequent library patron who never caused problems, or that people who saw him later that night didn't notice injuries, blood or odor on him.

"You just wanted to put the bad stuff in there, not everything," Brancato told the detective.

Harris said the fact that Morris frequented the library was irrelevant to the investigation. In most of the violent crimes he has investigated, Harris said the suspect doesn't show such signs of a struggle. He said he had to write the warrant right away with the preliminary facts that were available.

"You didn't feel like there was any need to slow down, wait until you get some in written form?" Brancato asked.

"To me, that makes no sense," Harris said. "We had a violent crime that was committed in the community. I'm not going to wait two or three weeks so I can receive information in written form."

"How about waiting a day or two?" Brancato asked.

"I'm not waiting two days," Harris answered. "I'm not waiting five minutes. Especially in a case like this."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Defense picks apart search warrant in Bloomingdale rape case 04/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:00am]
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