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Four months later, police aren't saying who hid Dontae Morris

TAMPA — For four days this summer, suspected police killer Dontae Morris eluded the largest manhunt in city history.

Police Chief Jane Castor warned that anyone who helped him hide would also face prosecution.

Four months later, only Morris sits in jail on charges stemming from the June 29 traffic stop deaths of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

And police have yet to make public their time line of where Morris went after fleeing the shooting scene.

Did he hide out in the city or leave town? How did a confidential informer learn of his whereabouts? And who else was involved in negotiating his surprising surrender at a South Tampa law office?

The St. Petersburg Times asked for some answers this week. Officials remained tight-lipped.

"It's an ongoing investigation," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "We're still building cases against the individuals who assisted him during that time period."

She said the requested information won't be released until those investigations are completed and acknowledged that they "have stretched on much longer than we ever anticipated."

"There's definitely people in our community who have information that would aid us in our investigation that have not come forward," said McElroy, who urged them to do so.

One arrest police made didn't pan out.

Last week, a federal judge dismissed the sole charge against Cortnee Brantley, who drove the Toyota Camry pulled over by Officer Curtis. Morris, her on-and-off-again boyfriend, was a passenger. After the gunshots, Brantley sped away.

Authorities accused her of not revealing that she knew Morris was a felon who illegally had a loaded gun on the date the officers were killed.

But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. found no proof that Brantley took specific action to conceal that fact, a required element of the obscure charge she faced.

The judge's ruling prompted Castor to issue a written pep talk to her staff, in which she reiterated the promise to fully investigate the events between the shootings and Morris' capture.

"This investigation has been and will continue to be thorough, methodical and objective," she wrote. "Charges that are warranted and can be proven will be brought forward for prosecution.

"We all remain deeply affected by the senseless deaths of Dave and Jeff, however we are professionals and as such will complete this investigation according to the law."

The law says prosecutors must prove that those who aided Morris knew he committed a crime and intended to help him avoid or escape arrest in order to charge them with accessory after the fact.

Investigative documents related to the shootings themselves also have not been released. That information, known as discovery, comes from the State Attorney's Office but isn't available to the public until it has been provided to the defense.

In some previous police shootings, including the Aug. 19, 2009, killing of Cpl. Mike Roberts, discovery materials were released about four months after the crimes.

Morris' attorney, who works for the busy regional conflict counsel office, hasn't even asked for the documents.

During a recent court hearing, defense attorney Stephen Fisher said that was part of his strategy. He did not elaborate, or return a call for comment this week.

Morris, 25, could get the death penalty if convicted.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this story. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Four months later, police aren't saying who hid Dontae Morris 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 11:30pm]
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