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Dontae Morris changes his mind about potential death sentence defense

TAMPA — Dontae Morris, who is scheduled to stand trial next month in the shooting deaths of two Tampa police officers, has changed his mind about cooperating with his attorneys as they prepare a defense against a potential death sentence.

At a Friday hearing, Morris told Circuit Judge William Fuente that he would allow his lawyers to argue against the death penalty if he is convicted in the 2010 killings of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

The hearing was called because his attorneys had said they were getting mixed signals from him about whether he wanted to fight the death penalty, should he be found guilty.

Morris said that while he had been uncooperative in the past, he would allow his lawyers to present family members as witnesses on his behalf in a potential sentencing hearing. He said he would also submit to examinations by psychologists in order to better argue against a death sentence.

Saying only a few words, Morris, 28, suggested the whole hearing was unnecessary and that there had been miscommunication with his attorneys.

"Everything we discussed right now that y'all discussing. … I told them that we was going to go through with the process, and we didn't have to go through this," he said in a calm, high-pitched voice.

Fuente had said he wanted to personally question Morris about what he wants. The session offered a rare chance for Morris to speak publicly, three years after his arrest.

He is slated to go on trial Nov. 4 in the murders of Curtis and Kocab. Morris already was convicted in another murder case and sentenced to life in prison.

Capital murder defendants sometimes choose not fight the death penalty. Some act out of strategy — thinking that forfeiting their right to argue during sentencing will allow a more effective appeal later on — while others are so-called "volunteers" for execution who have resigned themselves to death.

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

Dontae Morris changes his mind about potential death sentence defense 10/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 9:06pm]
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