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Judge: Jurors can see video of two Tampa officers' shooting deaths

TAMPA — It's a horrific 15 minutes and 25 seconds of video that no wife, no mother, no son or daughter would ever want anyone to see.

Prosecutors say the videotape, shot from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser, shows Dontae Morris gunning down and killing Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis on June 29, 2010.

But one group of strangers will view that video next month — federal jurors.

A judge Wednesday said he would allow jurors in the July 16 trial of Morris' girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley, to see the video and still photos of the scene, rejecting a defense argument that they are unnecessary and inflammatory.

With Morris awaiting trial in state court, it will be the first time that the video has been shown in open court.

Morris was a passenger in Brantley's Toyota Camry when she was pulled over by Curtis because her car did not have a tag. Morris is accused of killing the officers as they tried to arrest him on a warrant.

Inside the car, prosecutors say, Brantley shouted "Qway! Qway!" — her boyfriend's nickname — before she hit the gas and fled.

Prosecutor James Preston said the bodies of the officers came to rest against Brantley's car, but the video shows them being "displaced" as she raced away, potentially destroying evidence.

Brantley is charged with a misprision of a felony. Prosecutors said she failed to warn the officers that Morris was a felon with a gun and ammunition. One part of the charge is that she had "knowledge of the crime and (took) some affirmative act of concealment of participation."

"Ms. Brantley is not charged with their deaths," said defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. "There is only one reason to show that footage … and that is to appeal to the emotions of jurors."

Preston said the video will demonstrate a key element of the charge Brantley faces — that she fled and disturbed evidence by fleeing.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody denied the defense request without comment.

Irvin then asked Moody to view the video to see for himself if it was too graphic for jurors. The judge did so in chambers after the hearing, but declined to change his ruling.

Moody did grant a defense motion to prevent prosecutors from using inflammatory language at trial, including words such as "assassination."

Preston didn't object, saying he did not intend to use such language anyway.

The judge also refused to allow Irvin to get a copy of the video. While Irvin has viewed the tape, he said he needs a copy to better prepare a defense. But Preston said the officers' families fear a copy being released on the Internet or shown on the news.

Irvin also filed a motion on Wednesday asking Moody to dismiss charges against Brantley, arguing she is being selectively prosecuted. The motion noted that another of Morris' "paramours" has not been charged, even though she withheld information about Morris.

The woman was near the scene of another killing in which Morris is charged. Irvin said she was not charged because the victim was not an officer. Prosecutors declined to comment, and Moody has not yet ruled.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Judge: Jurors can see video of two Tampa officers' shooting deaths 06/27/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 9:51pm]
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