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Relatives ask judge to impose death penalty on cop killer Dontae Morris (w/video)

TAMPA — Cindy Warren wasn't sure she had anything to say in public about the murder of her son, Tampa police Officer David Curtis.

But after sitting through the trial of his killer, Dontae Morris, Warren decided she wanted to seize her chance to speak to Morris' judge.

"When he was watching and listening to the murders he committed that fateful night, he showed nothing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Warren said at a hearing Thursday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Morris, seated several feet away, watched her without visible reaction.

"The trial seemed to be just a field trip for him to be out of jail for a few days," she said. "He should now ask this court to put him to death, immediately, without hesitation."

Warren's comments came at a court session ostensibly devoted to legal arguments on whether Morris should be executed. In November, a jury found him guilty of the 2010 murders of Officers Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab and recommended the death penalty. Morris fatally shot the officers during a traffic stop.

Circuit Judge William Fuente will sentence Morris sometime this summer to either death or life imprisonment.

Family members of Curtis and Kocab already spoke at the trial, but Fuente — in what Morris' defense attorneys say is an unusual move — agreed to let them address him again.

The result Thursday was a string of heartfelt condemnations of Morris that, by the judge's own admission, have no legal relevance. The surviving relatives mostly ignored the judge's ground rule that they address their comments to him and not directly to Morris, and frequently sounded religious themes.

As the shape of the proceeding became clear, one of Morris' attorneys, Byron Hileman, frequently interrupted to object.

"They are not supposed to directly address the defendant and opine about his honesty and the state of his soul," Hileman said after the hearing. "I hated to interrupt those people. I felt badly for it. But I have to do my job, too."

Fuente said Thursday that the relatives' statements would not affect his decision about whether to impose the death penalty, which is guided by a legal calculation laid out in state law.

That did not stop the speakers from offering their advice.

"I'm not angry at you, and I forgive you for killing my husband," Sara Kocab-Redmon, the remarried widow of Jeffrey Kocab, said to Morris. "Your honor," she then said to Fuente, "I ask that you sentence Dontae Morris to death."

Even forgiveness such as this was too far of a reach for Sandy Kocab, Jeffrey's mother.

"Time doesn't heal all wounds," she said. "I have heard many victims say, 'I forgive you.' Well, I have to be honest. I'm not ready to say that."

Given the chance to speak Thursday, Morris declined.

The only formal testimony on Thursday came from Tampa psychologist Valerie McClain, who said Morris has unusually low intellectual ability and suffered from major depression when he was in jail awaiting trial. She acknowledged that none of her findings qualified as factors that should influence the judge's sentence under state law.

A point of interest in her testimony concerned Morris' reluctance last summer to cooperate with his attorneys as they tried to prepare to argue for life imprisonment if he were convicted.

During one of their exchanges, McClain and Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon each said that Morris had not wanted his mother and sister to ask for mercy on his behalf because of the stress it would cause them — and hence had considered not fighting to avoid a death sentence if he were found guilty.

Morris' mother, Selecia Watson, was in court Thursday and is expected to speak to the judge today, when the hearing continues. Asked after the hearing about her reaction to the remarks made toward her son, she said, "My words are not going to be kind right now. We'll wait till tomorrow."

Morris already is serving a life sentence for another 2010 murder and has charges pending for two additional killings — five in all.

Kelly Curtis, widow of David Curtis, said she did not think any natural disadvantages led Morris to kill her husband. She asserted in court Thursday that Morris had played on the same youth football team as her brother, and had been a talented athlete.

"We are here today because of his choices," she said of Morris. "He chose to kill my husband that night."

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Relatives ask judge to impose death penalty on cop killer Dontae Morris (w/video) 03/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:12pm]
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