Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dontae Morris jurors will not hear evidence of additional killings, judge rules

TAMPA — Tampa Bay area residents know Dontae Morris as a violent young man whose outbursts, according to police, left a startling body count in the summer of 2010.

But when Morris goes to trial next month on charges of killing two Tampa police officers, jurors will be given an incomplete version of that portrait.

That's because Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente, in a move many had expected, ordered this week that prosecutors cannot present evidence at the upcoming trial of two additional killings for which Morris has been charged.

In a two-page ruling, Fuente stated that he would grant the motion in the absence of any objections from the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. Defense attorneys had argued that evidence related to the two pending murder cases would prejudice the jury when it decides whether Morris is guilty of first-degree murder in the 2010 killings of police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. If convicted in that case, Morris could receive the death penalty.

In court papers filed in June, Morris' attorneys said evidence from the other murder cases was "irrelevant," "prejudicial," and "probative only of the defendant's bad character and propensity to commit crimes."

Morris already has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 42-year-old Rodney Jones, and as a result is serving a life prison sentence. In that case, Morris was convicted of killing Jones in what detectives said was retaliation for an earlier robbery. Fuente did not permit jurors in that case to hear about the other murder cases.

While it is not specifically mentioned in Fuente's order, Byron Hileman, an attorney for Morris, said prosecutors have told him they will not seek to inform jurors about his client's conviction in the first of the five murders he is accused of committing. That conviction could still become a factor in the trial's sentencing phase if Morris is again found guilty.

In the November trial for the killings of Curtis and Kocab, jurors will not hear about accusations that he also killed Derek Anderson and Harold Wright in May and June of 2010, respectively, according to the judge's ruling. Authorities say Morris fatally shot the police officers during a traffic stop because he thought they were arresting him for Anderson's murder.

Joe Episcopo, a Tampa criminal defense attorney, said accusations of other crimes typically only are presented in trials when they can demonstrate a strong pattern of criminal behavior. For example, such evidence frequently plays an important role in the prosecution of serial sex offenders, he said.

In the trial for the police kilings, however, such a pattern isn't necessary, Episcopo said, noting the strength of the prosecution's evidence. The shootings were captured on videotape, which will be shown to jurors.

"This is not a whodunit," Episcopo said. "There's no need to risk anything in this case. It's videotaped."

Morris' trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 4. Jurors will be bused to the courthouse in Tampa from the Orlando area because of the risk that a local jury pool would be prejudiced by media coverage of the case.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Dontae Morris jurors will not hear evidence of additional killings, judge rules 10/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 10:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]
  2. Vision Zero plan to make Hillsborough roads safer to be unveiled

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Vision Zero, the coalition trying to make Hillsborough County safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, is set to unveil its action plan on Tuesday morning.

    Members of the Vision Zero workshop cross Hillsborough Avenue and Kelly Road during a on-street audit of Town 'N Country roads in January. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times]
  3. Pasco EDC names business incubator head in Dade City, will open second site

    Business

    Pasco County economic development officials are busy reigniting their business start-up resources following the departure earlier this year of Krista Covey, who ran the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart business incubator in Dade City.

    Andrew Romaner was promoted this summer to serve as program director of the Dade City SMARTStart Entrepreneur Center, a start-up incubator service of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He succeeds Krista Covey, who relocated to Texas for another startup position. [Courtesy of Pasco EDC]
  4. What you need to know for Tuesday, Aug. 22

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, center, attends a hearing on Monday Circuit Court Judge Jack St. Arnold at the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater. The hearing was requested by attorneys representing John Houde, left, who filed a motion to invalidate the sale of a $458,000 Redington Beach condo, a deal orchestrated by Skelton, who stands accused of deliberately misleading bidders in a the June 8 foreclosure auction. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  5. Sarasota GOP names Dick Cheney 'Statesman of the Year'

    Blogs

    Former Vice President Dick Cheney will be honored as "Statesman of Year" by the Sarasota GOP, a title that twice went to Donald Trump.

    Dick and Liz Cheney