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Grand jury indicts Dontae Morris on fifth murder charge

TAMPA — Three times in just about a year, Rodney Jones faced gunmen. The last time, he was killed.

A grand jury decided Thursday that Dontae Morris, already accused of killing two police officers and two other men, also murdered the 42-year-old father on May 31.

Jones' sister, Daphne Stephens, said the news closes a chapter for the family but starts a new one.

"I think we're all in agreement that this makes it feel like the first day all over again," Stephens, 36, said in a phone interview.

Morris, 25, was already in the Hillsborough County Jail without bail. He was arrested and charged in July with the shooting deaths of Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during a June 29 traffic stop.

Jones is the fifth man Morris is accused of murdering since he was released from prison in April.

Jones was leaving the Cotton Club on N Albany Avenue at 2:30 a.m. when two men demanded money and then one of them — Morris — shot him, police said.

Morris also faces charges of attempted robbery with a firearm and a being a felon in possession of a firearm in connection with the shooting, court records show.

Detectives continue to investigate the second suspect and an arrest is pending, police said.

Police Chief Jane Castor said that text messages retrieved from Morris' phone records and witnesses helped detectives pinpoint Morris as the killer.

She said she thinks Jones and Morris knew each other.

Morris is also accused of killing Derek Anderson on May 18 and Harold Wright on June 8 in robbery attempts.

Jones, who was released from prison in December 2008, had come into contact with Tampa police as a victim twice before he was killed.

In April 2009, Jones reported a man shot at him as he locked his bike to a pole in a back yard on W Carmen Street. Jones told police he ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

Then, on May 22 of last year, someone in a maroon four-door car took a bracelet, ring, cell phone and $135 from Jones following a dispute near his stepmother's home on E 20th and N Nebraska avenues, according to police reports.

No one has been arrested in either of those cases.

Stephens said her brother was a fun-loving and family oriented man despite his past run-ins with the law. He served five stints in state prison, the longest 10 years for cocaine trafficking.

"We're thankful for the work that the detectives have done and the attention that they've given Rodney's case," Stephens said. "Throughout this whole ordeal we've remained prayerful that the right person would be charged."

Jones has two sons, both age 23, and was a fitness enthusiast who had gotten into training before his death, Stephens said.

Long before Morris was indicted for her brother's death, Stephens said she and her business partner reached out to the families of Anderson and Wright to find out how they could help.

"We found out both families were still in need of headstones for the graves," said Stephens, who owns a hair salon in Tampa. "So we put together a bowl-a-thon and clients donated, too."

She said they were able to raise enough to buy both grave stones following the August fundraiser.

Now, she said she will sit alongside the other families to watch Morris' trial.

She pities the man accused of killing her brother.

"Somewhere along the line he just got lost and somewhere along the line his soul became empty," she said. "... I heard he has children. There goes another child that is going to grow up without a father."

Morris will be arraigned on the latest charges Jan. 28, court records show.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at rmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Grand jury indicts Dontae Morris on fifth murder charge 01/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 7:35am]
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