TAMPA — Just 45 minutes before a heinous attack took place at the Bloomingdale library, teenager Anthony Tauceda noticed a familiar face as he was dropping off books with his father.
It was Kenny from his seventh-period class at Bloomingdale High School. Neither of them liked the teacher. Both joked around.
They didn't trade words, but Kenny caught his eye, then walked over to a bench and sat.
Tauceda didn't know then that he would recount that moment over and over for investigators and prosecutors. Or that two years later, months after his high school graduation, he would see 19-year-old Kendrick Morris on trial in a Hillsborough courtroom, facing life in prison.
Less than an hour after Tauceda saw his classmate, a young woman screamed into a phone. One of the last things she observed was a "weird guy" on a bench.
The details were all over the news the next morning. The 18-year-old East Bay High School student was raped and beaten outside the library, and her attacker was still at large.
A tip from Tauceda would be the first deputies heard of Morris, who was then 16.
His arrest would lead them to get DNA, which would lead to a link in an older rape, which led to a conviction last month.
But initially, Tauceda almost didn't report what he saw.
"You really didn't want to report it, did you?" Public Defender Rocky Brancato asked Tauceda.
"No," he said.
"Based on everything you knew about Kenny, you didn't think he did it."
Tauceda responded, "No."
But his father told him it might be important, and Tauceda figured maybe Morris would know something he didn't.
He met with a school resource officer who showed him a photo roster of the class. Tauceda didn't know Kenny's last name, but he picked out the familiar face.
Others would say they, too, saw Morris outside the library that night — a librarian, another woman dropping off a book. But Tauceda was the first.
What happened next will be reconstructed chronologically in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
For much of Thursday, crime scene workers chronicled their investigation the day after the rape. They said Morris left a fingerprint on a plastic Wendy's utensil found near the victim's leg. It was broken into a sharp point.
Morris wielded a knife at a day care worker he raped in 2007.
But during opening statements Wednesday, Brancato cautioned jurors not to look at the Wendy's utensil as a weapon.
"Even if it were his fingerprint," Brancato told them, "it's not a big issue. He is a frequent patron of that library. There are fast food restaurants in that area."
Investigators found no blood on the utensil.
The victim and her family did not attend proceedings Thursday. She spent the trial's opening day, Wednesday, in physical therapy. The attack stole her ability to see, speak and walk. Medical experts are expected to chronicle her struggles on Friday.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.