Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Probe of Tampa detective a windfall for Cortnee Brantley

TAMPA — A year ago, a federal judge decided that prison could wait until a higher court ruled on Cortnee Brantley's appeal.

Prison continues to wait.

Her appellate brief hasn't even been filed.

Brantley's life took a brutal turn in 2010 when a passenger in her car, Dontae Morris, killed two Tampa police officers on a traffic stop. Morris was sentenced to death. Brantley was sentenced to 366 days in prison for helping to conceal that he was a felon with a gun and bullets.

But ammunition for Brantley's continued freedom has come from an odd corner: the unrelated federal probe of a former Tampa detective who helped investigate the officers' deaths.

For the third time in three months, Brantley's attorney has cited the pending case against former Tampa police Detective Eric Houston as grounds to seek a delay in Brantley's appeal.

That's on top of three earlier delays for more mundane reasons, from a law office relocation to the attorney's busy caseload.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet answered the latest request. The U.S. Attorney's Office has opposed all three of the delays related to Houston.

"Brantley remains on release pending appeal," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rhodes wrote in a response filed Tuesday, "and she seemingly has no incentive to prosecute her appeal, which has now been pending for more than a year without a brief being filed."

Houston was a government witness in the Brantley case. He oversaw the crime scene after the officers were shot.

Now, stripped of his badge, the ex-cop is the target of a federal grand jury investigation. The only publicly released document in his case appears to link him and others to stolen identity tax refund fraud enabled by large-scale use of law enforcement databases.

Houston has maintained his innocence. Through his attorney, Wade Whidden, he declined to comment about his name being invoked to win delays for Brantley's appeal.

Brantley's defense attorney, Grady Irvin, notes in the request for a filing extension that Houston was the first law enforcement officer to speak with her after the police shootings.

"While the detective has yet to be indicted, published reports are that the detective's conduct appears to bear on issues of credibility (i.e., truthfulness, honesty, false statements, etc.)," Irvin wrote.

A federal jury convicted Brantley in January 2013. Three weeks later, the trial judge, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., ruled that the verdict was plausible by the "thinnest of legal threads" and found Brantley guilty.

He sentenced her in June 2013. But the next month, before she had reported to a prison, he extended her bail, leaving open the possibility that an appellate court might disagree with the verdict.

Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]

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