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Kendrick Morris guilty of raping day care worker

Kendrick Morris looks at his mother as a Hillsborough County sheriff’s bailiff handcuffs him Thursday after a jury found him guilty of raping a 62-year-old day care worker in 2007.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Kendrick Morris looks at his mother as a Hillsborough County sheriff’s bailiff handcuffs him Thursday after a jury found him guilty of raping a 62-year-old day care worker in 2007.

TAMPA — Kendrick Morris is guilty of raping a 62-year-old day care worker, a Hillsborough jury decided Thursday.

A judge could send him to prison for life.

Morris, 19, was convicted of three additional charges. He showed no reaction as the four verdicts were read.

Guilty of sexual battery. Guilty of attempted battery. Guilty of burglary with a deadly weapon. Guilty of attempted robbery with a deadly weapon.

The victim, now 65, who was raped on June 28, 2007, at the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center in Clair-Mel, stared straight ahead, a white sweater draping her shoulders. She sat without family or friends, only a victim's advocate at her side.

Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters turned back to look at the woman. Peters is a veteran sex crimes prosecutor, but tears streamed down her face. After the last verdict came down, she reached over a bench to hug the victim, cupped her face in her hands and said, "You did it."

The victim began to cry.

Morris looked back at his mother as bailiffs handcuffed him. She, too, sat without family. And once he was out of sight, she, too, was in tears.

Morris faces another trial later this month, accused of brutally beating and raping an East Bay High School senior outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in 2008 — 10 months after the attack on the day care worker.

He won't be sentenced for the day care rape until after the library rape trial concludes. That trial starts Sept. 27.

Thursday's deliberations took four hours. Jurors declined to comment as they left the courtroom. So did prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The now-retired day care worker sat on the witness stand earlier in the week and detailed all the things Morris did to her — how he wielded a knife, told her to disrobe and covered her mouth in case she tried to scream.

On Tuesday, she didn't get far into her testimony before she needed a few minutes to collect herself.

But on Thursday during closing statements, she remained stoic, even as another prosecutor held up photos of injuries on the most intimate parts of her body.

"Are you okay?" Peters whispered to her.

The woman nodded.

She hadn't known Morris, though they lived in the same neighborhood. He was 15 when he raped her. She said he wore a mask. She waited 10 months for an arrest.

Morris was arrested in April 2008, charged with the Bloomingdale rape. The jury in this week's trial was not told about his other arrest.

The prosecution's case this week came down to science. Morris' DNA profile was found in swabs taken from the victim after the attack.

"DNA doesn't lie," prosecutor Michael Sinacore told jurors during closing statements.

The prosecutor walked over to the defense table, stood directly over Morris and pointed a finger down at his head. "This," Sinacore said, "is the rapist."

The defense continued its attempt to cast doubt on the integrity of the DNA. They called attention to an oral swab that contained a trace amount of semen though the victim never reported an oral assault. Prosecutors reminded jurors that the rapist had touched the victim's mouth with his hand.

There was no contamination, prosecutors said. But even if there were — even if a genital swab touched an oral one — there is no reason to doubt that it belongs to Morris.

"That doesn't exonerate him in any way," Sinacore said. "It just proves he's guilty over and over again."

One alternate juror spoke with the Times as other jurors prepared to deliberate.

Jenny Rodriguez said she started off the trial hoping Morris was innocent. During jury selection, she hadn't recognized his name.

"From the very beginning," she said, "I wanted to believe he wasn't the person."

The DNA evidence convinced her. By the time the trial was over, she was ready to convict.

"I wish I wasn't an alternate, let's just say that."

Times staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Kendrick Morris guilty of raping day care worker 09/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 10:37pm]
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