TAMPA — Kendrick Morris, the 19-year-old accused of brutally raping a teenage girl outside the Bloomingdale library two years ago, will stand trial today in an unrelated earlier case, in which he was accused of raping a day care worker.
Morris' public defenders had argued it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury because of extensive media coverage of the library case, and even asked a judge to move the day care trial outside Tampa.
But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe decided attorneys should first try to pick a local jury, and by day's end Monday, they did.
Turned out, many people had never heard of Kendrick Morris.
His name has been in the news since April 2008, when he was accused of a vicious sexual attack outside the Bloomingdale Regional Library. The victim, an East Bay High School senior, was left unable to see, walk, talk, eat on her own or remember what happened to her. Authorities said DNA linked him to that rape and one from that previous summer.
In the early morning of June 28, 2007, at the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center in the Clair-Mel area, a masked man with a knife ordered a day care worker in her early 60s to the floor and asked for money, she told investigators. She said the man made her remove her clothes and raped her.
Morris lived three blocks away from the day care.
Much of the news coverage of Morris has focused on the library case, with updates about the victim's injuries and community fundraisers to help with her medical treatment.
On Monday, attorneys instructed a pool of 98 potential jurors to fill out a 16-question form about how they got their news, when they got it and how often.
Have you read about or regularly followed any of the following news stories, it asked:
Wrong way crosstown driver.
Tampa police officer shootings.
Bloomingdale library rape.
It cited 10 high-profile cases.
Attorneys then called some individual jurors into a back room. By midday, they'd dismissed about a half-dozen. They focused the majority of their questioning on the first third of the pool, with the rest waiting in another room in case they were needed. They never were.
Out of 30, none had watched the news the prior night or that morning.
Two said reading newspapers was too depressing.
And none recognized the tall, slender young defendant in the shirt and tie.