TAMPA — A dashboard camera video caught the fatal shootings of two police officers at a traffic stop. It pointed the finger at Toyota Camry passenger Dontae Morris. It showed his girlfriend, the driver, recoil at the pop of gunshots and then hit the gas.
But did it hold other truths?
A jury duty-bound to view the video on Monday asked again to see it Tuesday, after the first hour of deliberations in a federal case that holds Cortnee Brantley accountable for loyalty to Morris. She could face up to three years if convicted of an odd charge called "misprision of a felony." In short, the government says Brantley knew Morris was a felon who illegally possessed a gun and ammunition and that she took steps to conceal it from police.
Defense attorney Grady Irvin Jr., in summation, implored jurors not to make a sad day — June 29, 2010 — any sadder by punishing Brantley.
He said only three people could have prevented the deaths of Tampa Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, and that Brantley was not one.
"They got the person they need and will prosecute him right down the street at the state courthouse," Irvin said, referring to Morris, who awaits trial on first-degree murder charges.
Prosecutor James Preston pounced on the suggestion that the two officers might have approached Morris differently, noting that Kocab was already there backing up Curtis.
"Can you believe that?" Preston asked the jury. "What more do they need to do than have two officers go to the car and remove him — shoot him first?"
Irvin rested without calling defense witnesses. But in cross examination of detectives, he extracted concessions that Brantley, in some instances, had been truthful with police.
He asked U.S. District Court Judge James Moody to acquit Brantley without sending the case to the jury. Moody declined, though in 2010, he had dismissed the charge without hearing evidence. An appeals court reinstated it, but jurors deadlocked in July, leading to the latest trial.
Irvin said the government failed to prove that Brantley knew Morris was a felon with a gun. She had visited him in prison but may not have realized that it is reserved for people who commit felonies. And the shots were fired out of her view, above the Camry roof line.
Had Morris retrieved a gun in plain view of Brantley? A prosecution witness, retired Detective Henry Duran, seemed to leave open that possibility. He testified about what he saw in frame-by-frame images taken from the video.
He said he saw the rising Morris drawing a gun from below. Irvin told Duran he was actually seeing a police officer's arm. Duran disagreed.
That is one conflict that might have prompted jurors to request the video as they deliberated.
They will also need to weigh Brantley's intent as she drove away from the shooting scene.
Tampa Detective Eric Houston testified that Brantley parked the Camry across a lake and 500 yards from the apartment where officers found her. It was backed into a space that abutted woods.
Without the car, a bloodhound at the shooting scene had been unable to track Morris, a police officer testified.
Judge Moody, on record with his skepticism of the charge against Brantley, reiterated it Tuesday when the jurors were out of the room. Brantley's guilt, in the eyes of the law, would hinge on whether she intended, by her actions, to conceal a crime, he reminded the attorneys.
Concealment without intent wasn't enough, he said.
He provided an example of what would be enough — if Brantley had thought, "Aha, I'm not going to let any dogs get the scent of my car."
Still, he said this:
"Let it go to the jury."
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.