TAMPA — Cortnee Brantley will remain free on bond while she appeals her conviction on an obscure federal charge spawned by the 2010 deaths of two Tampa police officers, a judge decided Tuesday.
Without that liberty, she could serve her entire sentence while awaiting results of an appeal that might go her way, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. noted.
In June, Moody sentenced Brantley, 25, to a year and a day in prison after concluding that a jury's verdict was plausible "by the thinnest of legal threads."
"Reasonable jurists could disagree with the conclusion reached by this Court," his new ruling states. "If so, the Court's Order upholding the jury verdict would be reversed and the Defendant either acquitted or granted a new trial."
Brantley was convicted of misprision of a felony for failing to warn authorities that her boyfriend, Dontae Morris, was a felon with a loaded gun. Morris faces a trial in November on charges that he killed Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.
Brantley's prison sentence had not yet begun, but her attorney said last week her reporting date was "fast approaching."
The bail order for Brantley came in response to a post-sentencing motion from defense attorney Grady Irvin, who also launched an appeal.
Courts have laid out criteria for attaining bail on appeal. Brantley would face a multipronged test: She couldn't be a flight risk or danger to the community. Her appeal couldn't simply be a delay tactic. It would have to raise a substantial question of law or fact likely to result in reversal or a new trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Preston took issue with Irvin's contention that the appeal would raise a substantial legal question.
Both attorneys drew from Judge Moody's 12-page Feb. 6 order upholding the verdict.
"No closer analysis of the government's case could be applied," Preston wrote.
In that order, Moody said the jury may have decided that Brantley took affirmative steps to conceal herself and Morris from law enforcement by hiding her car after she left the scene of the roadside police shootings.
Such an affirmative step was necessary to support the verdict. Mere silence about Morris' weapon was not enough.
Preston revived Moody's "thinnest of legal threads" quote.
But while he dwelled on the existence of a thread — a verdict supported by evidence — Irvin dwelled on its thinness.
He quoted Moody's use of the word "problem" to characterize the jury's wording on a verdict form. Jurors did not explicitly describe an affirmative act.
Moody ultimately sided with Irvin, saying the case against Brantley involved "unusual facts and a very close question of law."
Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.