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Judge's decision in Brantley case unpopular but right

Hang around criminal courtrooms long enough, and you'll likely witness a kind of judge with a certain attitude on justice.

It goes like this: A decision has to be made before a high-profile case goes to trial. Are the charges too harsh? Should they have even been filed?

This particular brand of judge tends to shrug and say, "Let a jury sort it out." He does not say, "I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm soft on crime," at least not out loud.

Which might make you wonder why we have judges, or prosecutors, since hard calls are in the job description.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody just handed down a tough decision in a case as impassioned and inflamed as it gets, because it is tied to this summer's murders of two Tampa police officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

Moody — who, by the way, is nobody's idea of a pink-bellied, bleeding-heart guy — threw out the case against the sometime-girlfriend of Dontae Morris, who can get the death penalty if convicted of killing the two officers. It's the kind of call judges need to be able to make.

Police say Cortnee Brantley was driving a car that night with Morris in the passenger seat when they were pulled over. As the officers were arresting Morris on a bad check warrant, there were gunshots. She sped off. Morris ran in a different direction. He was on the lam for days before he was arrested.

There isn't much to like about what Brantley, who is 22, did that night. She traded phone messages with Morris and agreed to "stay loyal." Though she answered some questions over several hours with police, she refused to name her passenger.

But the rarely sighted "misprision of a felony" charge she faced in federal court was such a stretch, you could almost see the duct tape holding it together. It goes like this: She knew he was a felon with a loaded gun, didn't report it and "willfully" concealed the crime.

But the judge said it was not enough for her to intend to conceal it or talk about concealing it — she had to take an actual, affirmative step to hide his crime to be guilty.

So where's the concealing? There was no evidence she cleaned or hid the car. And doesn't she have the same fundamental right to remain silent as you or me?

In the more than four months since the officers were killed, state prosecutors have declined to charge Brantley with anything, such as being an accessory after the fact, presumably because there is no evidence she did anything to directly help Morris.

Despite how some people feel about her role that night.

Maybe now you're thinking of Bernice Bowen, who went to prison after her boyfriend, Hank Earl Carr, used a hidden handcuff key to escape arrest and ultimately killed three police officers.

Notably, the appeals court that threw out some of her convictions said she "had no legal duty to volunteer to the police any knowledge she possessed about Carr's handcuff key." Even if it would have made all the difference.

What happened that night in June is a tragedy and a horror. Hard to blame those who want Brantley to pay for something, anything.

But in a courthouse in the cold light of day, a judge decided it would be wrong to hold her responsible when someone else killed two good cops.

The judge did his job.

Judge's decision in Brantley case unpopular but right 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 8:14pm]
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