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Defense tries to toss Bloomingdale library rape suspect's statements

TAMPA — The morning after a teenage girl was raped outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library two years ago, Hillsborough County sheriff's Cpl. David Waytovich knew two things about a 16-year-old named Kendrick Morris:

He was a person of interest in the rape. And he was a runaway.

The corporal testified Monday that he questioned Morris without reading him his rights and brought him to a police station as part of a "missing juvenile" investigation — but then submitted the information he learned into the rape file.

Morris' public defenders have a problem with that.

In a 76-page motion argued in court Monday, Rocky West Brancato and Maria Pavlidis call Morris' being taken into custody as a runaway a "guise," saying law enforcement officials believed they had found a "loophole" around the Miranda warning.

Their goal as the hearing continues this morning is to persuade Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe to toss those early statements Morris made about where he was the night of the rape, along with physical evidence they say was later improperly obtained.

If the judge grants the motion, the prosecution will suffer a substantial hit to its rape case against Morris.

Prosecutors say the 18-year-old victim was talking to a friend on her cell phone as she drove to the library to drop off books the night of April 24, 2008.

There, the victim told her friend she saw a "weird guy." The friend heard a scream and the call was cut off.

"I was just absolutely frantic," that friend, Rachel Hall, testified about her emotional state when she got to the scene. "There was just lights and a lot of commotion. Everything happened so fast."

The victim's car was found parked at the book drop, still running, with blood droplets on the door.

She was discovered in a field next to the library, half naked, badly beaten, unresponsive to verbal commands.

Multiple strokes she suffered caused her to lose her vision and her ability to speak, swallow and hold her head upright.

Today, she remains dependent on a feeding tube and a wheelchair. She has no memory of the moment that changed her life.

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

The defense wants the DNA thrown out, too.

On Monday, attorneys focused on the first piece of evidence in question, what Morris told Cpl. Waytovich: He was in the library that night.

When it closed, he sat outside on a bench with no one to pick him up and no one to call.

He walked over to Walmart, then to McDonald's, then called for a taxi to get to his neighborhood.

The defense questioned:

If he was really being treated as a runaway, how hard did the corporal try to get in touch with Morris' mother before he started asking questions? Why did he take the missing juvenile to the Sheriff's Office instead of a runaway shelter? Why did he ask in depth about one night if Morris was missing for five days?

The corporal said runaways are often taken to the Sheriff's Office if parents can't be located, and Morris didn't know where his mother was — she had spent a few days in jail on a DUI charge.

He noted that he didn't ask Morris about any involvement in the crime.

In a 24-page response to the defense's motion, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters says that officers were legally entitled to get answers from Morris about where he was while he was a runaway, and that they didn't have to read him his rights to do it.

They gave him a chance to speak to his mother when they wanted to question him about the crime, and they honored his mother's request to let him leave without an interview.

Other witnesses who were questioned included women whose paths he crossed that night — one working at McDonald's who sold him two value meals; a neighbor who helped him with cab fare and let him sleep over; and a third who was at the library.

Kristine Compton had decided to drop off books and arrived at 10 p.m., 15 minutes before the victim's phone went dead.

She saw something unusual, a man sitting on a bench an hour after the library had closed. Wondering if she should even pull in, she studied him.

He was young, wearing a backpack, looking like he was waiting. She dropped off the books, and then, before she left, rolled down her car window.

She asked him if everything was okay. He said yes.

She asked if he was waiting for a ride. He said yes.

She contemplated giving him one. But instead, she drove away.

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

Defense tries to toss Bloomingdale library rape suspect's statements 04/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:58pm]

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