Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Jurors begin deliberations in Cortnee Brantley case

TAMPA — None of the jurors turned away from the video. Sitting nearby, Cortnee Brantley appeared to shield her eyes at the moment a man pulls a gun on two Tampa police officers.

Jurors watched as the man identified by police as Dontae Morris, Brantley's boyfriend, fires two shots into the heads of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. The officers have no time to react. The shots, police say, take less than a second.

They fall together on the side of the road.

Jurors began deliberating Brantley's fate Tuesday on an obscure federal charge called misprision of a felony: failing to tell authorities Morris was a felon with a gun and ammunition.

Brantley is not charged with the June 29, 2010, killings. And Morris has yet to stand trial on the murder charges.

But the five-minute video from a police cruiser's dashboard camera is nonetheless the centerpiece of her trial.

That was emphasized when jurors, who deliberated 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon without a verdict, said they want to see the video for a second time today when they resume.

The trial's second day saw testimony end without any witnesses presented by Brantley.

Before closing arguments, the judge, skeptical about the prosecution theory, appeared ready to grant an acquittal. Referring to evidence that Brantley repeatedly refused to identify Morris to police, U.S. District Court Judge James Moody told attorneys, "She has no duty, contrary to what the government argues, to give a name. She has no duty to say anything in an interview" with police.

But he delayed a ruling on whether to grant an acquittal, opening the possibility he might, if the jury returns a guilty verdict, dismiss it. "This is not an easy case because it carries so much emotion," Moody said. "It's hard to separate out the evidence from the emotion."

As the video opens, Curtis' dash cam shows Brantley's Toyota Camry driving on 50th Street without a license plate. Curtis hits the cruiser's emergency lights, and the car pulls over.

The first few minutes of the video record what seems like a routine traffic stop. Curtis asks for Brantley's license, registration and proof of insurance.

He asks why she doesn't have a tag. Brantley offers an explanation, saying someone told her she didn't need one as long as she had the registration.

"You do have to get a tag," Curtis says. "You didn't know you had to? Who told you that?"

Curtis asks Morris, a passenger, for his name and birth date. He complies, spelling his name.

Curtis returns to his cruiser, entering Morris' name on a computer. He finds a warrant for a bad check. The screen displays a warning: "Has resisted arrest."

After Kocab arrives at the scene, the officers tell Morris to get out of the car. Morris would not have known the warrant was for a bad check. He had recently been interviewed in a murder case.

As Morris exits, he pulls the gun and shoots, falls and then runs from the scene. Brantley drives off, crying out for Morris.

Detectives later found the pad with the last notes Curtis ever wrote: "Morris, Dontae 8/24/85."

Jurors must find that Brantley knew about that gun before convicting her on failing to report.

Defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr. told jurors Brantley's view of the shooting was blocked by the roof of the car. He said she didn't see it, and did not know Morris had fired the shots.

The judge told attorneys something that hasn't been heard in the case before. Moody said the video might actually help Brantley.

That's because it shows the officers didn't see the gun until too late, supporting an argument that Brantley, too, didn't see it.

"That supports the defense as much as the government," he said.

To convict, jurors must find that Brantley knew Morris, a convicted felon, had a gun and ammunition, failed to report that fact to detectives after the shooting and acted to conceal the information.

She concealed it in several ways, prosecutors say: by her refusal to cooperate and by fleeing the crime scene in the car, which might have yielded evidence helping to capture Morris.

By removing the car, for example, a police dog was unable to get a scent that could have been obtained from the passenger seat.

Irvin said his client had been unfairly attacked. Police knew as soon as they arrived that they were looking for Morris, he said.

He suggested she fled because she was afraid of Morris.

"She was called a coward," he said. "She was called a thug. What's wrong with these men? She's a lady."

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