TAMPA — More than two years after Kendrick Morris was accused of sexually battering two women, a Hillsborough circuit judge Tuesday refused to move the trial to another city before attempting to seat a jury in Tampa.
In April 2008, Morris, then 16, was accused of raping and brutally beating an 18-year-old woman outside Bloomingdale Regional Library when she went to return a book late at night.
A few days later, investigators linked his DNA to an attack the summer before on a 61-year-old woman at the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center in the Clair-Mel area.
A jury trial in the day care case is set for Aug. 30, and the library case is scheduled for September.
On Tuesday, Assistant Public Defender Maria Pavlidis said extensive media coverage of the library victim's injuries — and the resulting outpouring of sympathy from the community — would make it impossible to seat an impartial jury. She said many fundraisers have been organized for the young woman, with one set for Aug. 21, about a week before Morris' first trial.
The victim, then a senior at East Bay High School, suffered fractures to her forehead and nose and multiple strokes from being choked. She lost her vision and her ability to speak.
Pavlidis said online blog posts routinely hurl insults at Morris, his family, and even his attorneys. One, she said, likened Morris to the devil. She said the two rape cases have become so intertwined that it would be difficult for jurors in the day care case to set aside their biases and preconceived notions stemming from the library incident.
But Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore said juries had successfully been seated in many high-profile cases. He said statements by law enforcement officials to reporters have only provided facts regarding the two cases, with little "inflammatory commentary."
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe said he would consider the defense's motion again if it appears difficult to seat an impartial jury next month.
"I think it's premature to change venue at this time, at least on the day care case," he said.
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.