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Police killer Dontae Morris denied new trial

TAMPA — Convicted of killing two Tampa police officers and sentenced to death, Dontae Morris will not get a new trial, a Hillsborough County circuit judge ruled Tuesday.

In a six-page decision, Judge William Fuente said the evidence against Morris was too great to merit another trial.

"After reviewing and reweighing the evidence presented during trial, the Court finds there was overwhelming evidence, including a dash-cam video of the shootings, to support the guilty verdicts," Fuente wrote.

Nearly four years have passed since June 29, 2010, when Morris shot Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, each 31, on the side of an east Tampa road.

Their interaction with Morris began when Curtis pulled over a Toyota Camry driven by Morris' then-girlfriend after seeing it had a missing tag. Morris was in the passenger seat and gave the officer his name. Curtis checked it against police records and saw a Jacksonville bad check warrant.

Kocab arrived as backup. As the two officers approached the Camry, a camera on a police cruiser dashboard recorded Morris rising from the car and shooting. The officers collapsed and Morris ran off; he was arrested four days later after the largest manhunt in Tampa's history.

His then-girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley, drove off. She was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for concealing from authorities that Morris was a felon with a loaded gun. She is free pending appeal.

A jury found Morris guilty of murdering the officers and, in May, he was sentenced to death.

In their motion for a new trial, attorneys for Morris argued that prosecutors had "insufficient evidence" to prove the officers' murders were premeditated.

They claimed that one of the prospective jurors, who was never named to the jury, biased the jury pool when she made a statement about a prior murder conviction of Morris' during jury selection. They also said a jail deputy who overheard Morris say, "I repent for killing," should not have been allowed to testify and certain statements from the officers' widows should not have been allowed either.

Morris had previously been sentenced to life in prison for killing another man, Rodney Jones, and was charged with murdering Derek Anderson and Harold Wright in 2010, before he encountered the Tampa police officers. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the Anderson case.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

Police killer Dontae Morris denied new trial 06/24/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 9:06pm]
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