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Trial of accused cop killer Dontae Morris put off until spring

TAMPA — Dontae Morris, whose first-degree murder trial this month was aborted by jury pool gossip, won't be tried again until February or March, the prosecution and defense agreed Friday.

But lawyers did not agree on whether to again attempt to find 12 impartial jurors in Hillsborough County or to move Morris' trial to another city — possibly Orlando, Jacksonville, or Miami.

Morris' attorneys want the trial moved. The prosecution argued that it almost had a jury this month before gossip tainted the pool.

Morris was to face charges that he fatally shot Rodney Jones, 42, during an attempted robbery outside the Cotton Club in West Tampa on May 31, 2010.

Three more murder trials for Morris — including one for the 2010 fatal shootings of Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis — remain in limbo, unscheduled.

Early this month, lawyers had reduced a pool of 200 potential jurors to 70 who said they were not familiar with the charges against Morris.

But then 16 people in the remaining pool admitted they had either participated in or overheard gossip about Morris, even though the judge gave each of them a written order not to talk about the defendant.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente dismissed the entire pool.

On Friday, Fuente said he was concerned about the risk of failing again to find an impartial jury in Hillsborough County, given the complications of assembling another large jury pool and bringing in witnesses.

One alternative would be to select a jury in another city, then bring jurors to Tampa for the trial.

But because the trial itself is expected to take no more than four or five days, Fuente said he may consider trying the case wherever a jury is selected.

He said he would take all the options under advisement. He set another hearing for Sept. 14.

John Barry can be reached at (813)226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Trial of accused cop killer Dontae Morris put off until spring 08/17/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 17, 2012 10:44pm]
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