Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Dontae Morris trial in killing of 2 Tampa police set for November

TAMPA — Almost three years after two Tampa police officers died at the hand of a gunman, the man accused of killing them, Dontae Morris, has a trial date in a different city.

The trial is tentatively set to take place in Orlando at the beginning of November, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge William Fuente said during a hearing Friday. It is expected to take two weeks.

Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis were shot at close range during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010. The murder was captured on a police dash camera, and police quickly named Morris as their suspect. He was arrested after a four-day manhunt. Morris, 27, faces the death penalty.

The trial could begin Nov. 4 with jury selection, Fuente said. It will most likely take place in Orlando with Orange County jurors.

"It's all tentative pending that Orange County can accommodate the trial," said Mark Cox, a State Attorney's Office spokesman. "The judge and the courts would be making those arrangements."

Moving a high-profile trial outside the area is rare, but not unheard of.

The 1993 trial of two white men charged with kidnapping black tourist Christopher Wilson, dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire while yelling racial slurs moved to West Palm Beach because attorneys couldn't pick an impartial jury in Tampa.

Morris, dressed in red prison garb, did not speak Friday.

Regardless of what happens in the trial, he will spend his life behind bars.

In March, jurors found Morris guilty of first-degree murder for the shooting of Rodney Jones outside the Cotton Club in West Tampa on May 31, 2010. He received a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole.

The jurors, chosen from Orange County and sequestered for several days in a Tampa hotel during the trial, did not know that Morris faced additional charges in other cases.

It was the first of four trials for Morris, who is accused of killing five men, including the two Tampa police officers, during a two-month span in 2010. His two other trials, for the separate murders of Derek Anderson and Harold Wright, have not yet been scheduled.

According to detectives, Morris ambushed 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 officers, he believed he was wanted for Anderson's murder, detectives said.

Morris killed drug dealer Harold Wright on June 8, 2010, detectives said, 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.

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