Kendrick Morris sentenced for rapes, 65 years total in prison

TAMPA — She saw him for the first time on Friday and stared.

Kendrick Morris. He was the brutal rapist, the reason her life now revolves around her daughter's hospital bed.

For three years, the mother had left criminal matters to lawyers and cops. She didn't need to know the details of that night outside the Bloomingdale library. What mattered more was seeing her daughter's little victories — recognizing light and shadows, holding her head up for a few seconds.

Friday was different. It was an end. The 19-year-old rapist would be sentenced. And he would hear what was on her mind.

"I don't want to see you walk back through that door," she would tell him, "never realizing what you did."

She almost didn't go. But she thought of the second victim, who had sat through a trial alone. Months before the 2008 library attack, Morris had raped a 62-year-old day care worker.

Friday, they met, two women whose lives were destroyed by the same man.

Minutes before the hearing, behind closed doors, the mother hugged the former day care worker and said she came for her. The woman just cried.

Many people would speak — those who knew Morris, those who knew the library victim, state experts. The former day care worker was the first.

"When I see a light-skinned person, I start panicking," said the woman, now 65, whose quiet voice pushed through sobs. "He had a knife. He made me get down on the floor. …

"I don't have nightmares. But I think about it, and I just burst out crying."

The library victim's mother heard from her daughter's friend, the young woman who discovered the bloody scene, who is now depressed, failing school and consumed with guilt that she could have done something. She heard from her only other daughter, who takes turns with her mother in her sister's constant care.

"I sit and daydream about what could have been," the 24-year-old sister said. "The two of us being able to afford to take mom on the vacation she always dreamed of; the two of us doing mission work together in a Third World country; her walking down the aisle one day as my maid of honor. …"

The mother herself did not speak out loud, her English imperfect, her nerves on edge. But her daughter read a letter she wrote to Morris, which had everything she wanted to say.

"Do you know," she asked, "that my soul is broken?"

She was the oldest of four children, she told him, raised poor in communist Vietnam. Her parents paid smugglers to bring her to America. "I saw a country filled with hope and good people."

She got a job, saved money and brought family. At 28, she had a little girl, and she watched her grow. "She had long, silky black hair and eyes that sparkled like stars when she smiled. She danced, she laughed, she played the piano. …

"She knew no evil. …

"Today, she only moans and utters sounds. … I have not heard her voice in three years. …

"I live by her side, stroking her hair, massaging her face, cutting her toenails. …

"I lift her to her wheelchair every day and wheel her outside and urge her to feel the wind in her face. ...

"We forgive you, Kendrick, for what you did. ... Not because you deserve it, but because God deserves it.

"I no longer have to carry the anger."

Morris sat still, almost studious. He gave her no reaction. And the hearing continued.

The mother watched Morris' public defenders tell the judge that the rapist, too, had once been a victim. They told of beatings, neglect. They said his young brain was developing, not fully formed.

"It's easy for everyone to stand here and say he's evil," said his lawyer Maria Pavlidis. There were other factors the judge should consider.

But prosecutor Michael Sinacore said, "Was he born this way or made this way? From our perspective, it really doesn't matter."

The state wanted two 60-year sentences, given back-to-back to add up to 120. The defense asked for less than 45.

They spoke of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbids life sentences for juveniles who did not kill, deeming such a punishment "cruel and unusual."

"You could have a good debate," the prosecutor told the judge, "about whether what happened at the library was better than homicide."

The mother braced herself for the judge's ruling.

"If ever there was a case that cried out for a life sentence," said Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe, "this is the case. …

"A man has to pay for the wicked he's done. Kendrick Morris, you're a sexual predator. And you're going to be punished."

Sixty-five years. Even with credits, Morris will not see the outside of a prison until after his 70th birthday.

Unlike lawyers, the mother had not thought of a number. Nothing would have equaled the sentence Morris gave her daughter.

When it was over, the former day care worker reached for the mother and pulled her close. A crowd of supporters gathered. But the mother did not linger.

She slipped away quietly, headed home to her daughter.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Kendrick Morris sentenced for rapes, 65 years total in prison 05/20/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 12:38am]

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