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Dontae Morris denied bail; investigators air possible motives in killings

Dontae Morris is accused of killing five people last year, including two officers.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Dontae Morris is accused of killing five people last year, including two officers.

TAMPA — Dontae Morris failed to win release on bail from jail Friday, but not before investigators offered the first public airing of his motives for allegedly killing five people last year, including two Tampa police officers.

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet took less than a minute to deny bail for Morris, but only after eight hours of testimony by Tampa detectives and jail officials that laid out the whys and hows of five fatal shootings.

The whys, according to the detectives:

• Morris killed Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010, because he thought they were about to arrest him for murder. He was wrong. They wanted to arrest him on a bad-check warrant.

• Morris ambushed Derek Anderson at his doorstep when he returned home from doing his laundry on May 18, 2010, apparently because Anderson had argued with him on a basketball court earlier in the day. The night Morris killed the police officers, he believed he was wanted for Anderson's murder.

• Morris killed Rodney "Scarface" Jones outside the Cotton Club bar in West Tampa on May 31, 2010, partly for money, partly for revenge. Jones had flashed thick wads of cash during an oldies karaoke show that night. But detectives said Jones also had once held Morris at gunpoint during a drug ripoff, leaving him stranded on a roadside.

• Morris killed drug dealer Harold Wright on June 8, 2010, because Wright was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wright delivered drugs to Morris for another dealer who was the intended target. Morris decided to kill Wright anyway to "send a message" to the dealer who hadn't shown up.

The alleged motives for the five killings were described by detectives on Friday based on interviews of Morris' girlfriends and from text messages from Morris' cell phone.

In February and March, detectives said, Morris made repeated attempts from phones at the jail to find out what those girlfriends were telling police and to get them to talk to his lawyer.

One of them was Angela Murphy, who Morris assigned his brother, Dwayne Callaway, to find on Feb. 21. "She ain't vibing right," Morris complained. When Morris did reach Murphy by phone, he told her he had moved up her visiting day so he could talk to her. "Don't lie to me no more, you hear me?" Morris told Murphy, who is the mother of his son, Dontae Jr.

The second woman, Ashley Price, "is unrighteous right now," Morris told a friend, Jevontae Dennard.

According to detectives, Morris told Price about all five shootings, some of them in great detail. Price, detectives said, described how Morris followed Derek Anderson as the victim brought clean laundry home from a friend's house. When Anderson reached his second-story apartment, Morris was on the ground below, 20 yards away, unseen. Price said Morris fired as Anderson talked on his cell phone.

The night of the shootings of Officers Curtis and Kocab, Price said Morris again called her and described to her how the killings happened.

Curtis had written Morris' name during the traffic stop and gone back to his patrol car to check the name on his computer. Morris assumed Curtis would find a murder warrant, either for the death of Derek Anderson or Harold Wright.

No such warrant existed. But detectives said Morris told Price he "had to shoot the officers to get away." According to Price, when Curtis and Kocab asked Morris to step from the car, he pulled a gun from under the seat and fired point-blank at both officers.

He told Price, "I shot those crackers."

In his ruling Friday, Judge Sleet said he was convinced that Morris belongs in jail. Morris showed no reaction Friday to either the testimony or the denial of bail.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the mother of Dontae Morris' son.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Dontae Morris denied bail; investigators air possible motives in killings 06/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 12:34pm]
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