Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jury finds Dontae Morris guilty of murder

Dontae Morris is being tried on first-degree murder and attempted robbery charges in the slaying of Rodney Jones outside a Tampa club in 2010.

AUSTIN ANTHONY | Times

Dontae Morris is being tried on first-degree murder and attempted robbery charges in the slaying of Rodney Jones outside a Tampa club in 2010.

TAMPA — Dontae Morris is guilty of first-degree murder, 12 jurors decided late Wednesday.

Not for the slayings to which he's most notoriously connected. A trial on the fatal shootings of two Tampa police officers will arrive another day.

On Wednesday, it was 42-year-old Rodney Jones' chance for justice. And after 5 1/2 hours, the jury found Morris guilty of premeditated murder in Jones' death outside the Cotton Club bar in West Tampa on May 31, 2010.

Morris now faces a mandatory life sentence.

"Thank you, Jesus," Jones' sister, Daphne Stephens, whispered in court after the verdict.

Jurors also found Morris, 27, guilty of attempted robbery and felony murder, meaning he killed Jones while a felony was being committed.

This was the first of four murder trials for Morris.

It wasn't the highest stakes. He faces the death penalty in the officers' deaths.

And it arguably was not the strongest case. There was no forensic evidence tying Morris to the scene of Jones' death: no fingerprints, DNA samples or surveillance video.

The state made a case built on bits of evidence that fit together, each piece corroborating the others, according to Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon.

What is the likelihood, Harmon asked jurors during closing arguments Wednesday, that two women would independently identify Morris as someone at the Cotton Club the night Jones was shot, and that Morris would try to set up an alibi later that morning — and would later confess the murder to a friend?

Defense attorney Byron Hileman argued that jurors should weigh the credibility of that friend, Ashley Price.

She is a felon and may have had other motives, Hileman said, such as trying to get a lighter sentence for criminal charges she faced.

"Obviously, that can form a motive for providing misleading information," Hileman said.

Jones was shot in the neck outside the Cotton Club after spending the night inside with friends.

According to authorities, Morris had been waiting for Jones. Morris was mad that Jones had previously robbed him.

The jurors did not know that Morris is facing additional charges in the other cases. Circuit Judge William Fuente made sure of that, going to Orlando to find an untainted jury, then sequestering them for several days in a Tampa hotel during the trial this week.

The judge thanked them for enduring the hassle, then let them go.

It was about 9:30 p.m., and, with the jury out of the room, Fuente asked if any of Jones' family members wished to speak. They get the chance to address the court before sentencing, which will be set later.

Daphne Stephens walked toward the lectern.

Without tears, she asked the judge to ensure Morris gets life in prison.

"If he spends eternity plus one day, that's still not enough to fill the void he left in my family," she said.

Stephens saw her brother lying on the concrete that dark Memorial Day morning. He left two children and two grandchildren.

"We put our pets down with more care and more love than my brother was taken from this world," she said.

Stephens thanked those involved. She could finally start to heal, she said.

From the courtroom benches behind her, Stephens' husband and uncle listened to her words.

And so did a woman who might understand Stephens better than most:

Kelly Curtis, the widow of slain Tampa police Officer David Curtis, who police say Morris shot along with Officer Jeffrey Kocab on June 29, 2010.

She came for the closing arguments and waited for the verdict.

As they left the room, Stephens' tears came. Then she hugged Kelly Curtis, who smiled and said: "You did good."

Jury finds Dontae Morris guilty of murder 03/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Snooty, world's oldest living manatee, dies in accident at Bradenton's South Florida Museum (w/video)

    News

    Snooty, who was the world's oldest living manatee, died in an accident, the South Florida Museum announced Sunday afternoon.

    Snooty, the Manatee County mascot, turns 60 on Monday. Hundreds of people came to the Parker Manatee Aquarium to see Snooty at his birthday party on Saturday. He was the first manatee to have a recorded birth date on July 21, 1948.

 [Times (2008)]
  2. Deputies: Tampa man killed after car strikes tree

    Accidents

    TOWN 'N COUNTRY — A 24-year-old man was killed early Sunday after he lost control of his car, causing it to hit a pine tree.

  3. O.J. Simpson had a 'conflict-free life'? Not really, not in Florida

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — When O.J. Simpson told a Nevada parole board last week that he's led a "conflict-free life," he seemed to overlook a few episodes that had him cycling in and out of courtrooms and jail cells for nearly 20 years before the Las Vegas hotel-room heist that sent him to prison in 2008.

    Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017.  Simpson was granted parole Thursday after more than eight years in prison for a Las Vegas hotel heist, successfully making his case in a nationally televised hearing that reflected America's enduring fascination with the former football star.  [The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP]