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Defense attorneys take issue with evidence in Hillsborough library rape case

TAMPA — The Hillsborough Public Defender's Office wants a judge to throw out DNA evidence linking Kendrick Morris to two rape cases, arguing that law enforcement officials improperly obtained it and other physical evidence and incriminating statements.

In a 76-page motion, the teen's attorneys also present a time line for his whereabouts the night of the April 24, 2008, attack that conflicts with the version offered by authorities.

They say surveillance video shows Morris walking into a Walmart store at 10:22 p.m., just seven minutes after the time authorities say the assault began about a mile away at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in Valrico. Morris then went to McDonald's before returning to Walmart at 11:36 p.m., Assistant Public Defenders Rocky West Brancato and Maria Pavlidis wrote.

Reports from the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office previously suggested that Morris made only the later trip to Walmart after McDonald's.

The 18-year-old victim had gone alone to the library that night to return a book in the after-hours drop box. Talking on her cell phone, she told her friend there was a "weird guy" hanging around. The friend heard a scream, and the call went dead at 10:15 p.m., according to the motion.

Friends and family found the victim lying half-naked behind the library. Beaten and sexually battered, she suffered multiple strokes that damaged her brain and left her unable to move.

She has no memory of the attack.

Authorities used DNA evidence from that case to tie Morris to the unsolved June 2007 sexual assault of a 61-year-old woman at a day care near his home. Now 18, he remains in jail awaiting trial in both cases.

In their motion to suppress, Morris' public defenders argue that Circuit Judge Sam Pendino should not have signed a search warrant permitting authorities to obtain a saliva sample from the teen. They said the Sheriff's Office's application for the warrant failed to lay out probable cause that Morris' DNA would match the DNA in the victim's sexual battery kit.

Authorities noted that Morris was seen sitting at a bench in front of the library about 11 minutes before the attack, but they failed to include any corroborating details to show that he was involved in the attack, the attorneys said.

"The affidavit for search warrant establishes nothing more than lawful activity of the child defendant," they wrote. "It does not state why the swab would uncover evidence of wrongdoing."

They contend that the search warrant contained false statements and material omissions. It did not mention that Morris was a frequent library patron who never gave the employees any trouble and witnesses who saw him after the attack did not observe anything unusual about him.

"The material omissions were made, at a minimum, with reckless police conduct that amounts to deception," the motion states.

Deputies initially detained Morris at the library the morning after the attack on the grounds that he had been reported as a "missing juvenile." By that time, however, he also had been named a "person of interest" in that rape case.

Authorities decided to drive Morris to the criminal investigation division's office to conduct an interview. Without advising Morris of his Miranda rights, Cpl. David Waytovich began asking the teen during the trip where he had been the previous night and what time he had left the public library.

As a result of the improper questioning, attorneys Brancato and Pavlidis said their client's statements about his movements the night of the attack should be suppressed.

The public defenders also take issue with how law enforcement seized clothing, a shoe and a backpack from Morris' bedroom on April 26, 2008.

Whether the motion has any merit remains to be seen. In court Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe scheduled a hearing date for March.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office does not comment on pending cases, spokesman Mark Cox said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Defense attorneys take issue with evidence in Hillsborough library rape case 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:56pm]
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