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Parents are all too familiar with son's legal troubles

Isidro Morell, 75, walked through the door of his Sun City Center home after his shift bagging groceries at Publix. The phone rang. A deputy asked if he was Tito's father.

"Yeah, he's my son," Mr. Morell replied.

He knew immediately his son was in trouble. Tito Morell, 34, had been in and out of jail since he was a teenager stealing cars. On Tuesday, he was a suspected bank robber in a standoff with Pasco deputies on U.S. 41.

The father, a man with a clean record, jumped in his car and started driving to his son's aid. Again.

Tito has been addicted to crack cocaine since he was a teenager, his family said. He's spent more than seven years in prison for crimes, including robbery, grand theft, burglary, fleeing to elude and battery on a law enforcement officer.

His mother, Amelia Morell, 70, estimates they've spent about $30,000 on his bail and lawyer's fees. She tears up when she thinks about him.

"These are supposed to be their golden years," their 45-year-old son Eliel Morell said. "This is supposed to be the time they look back at their success."

Instead on Tuesday, the father and brother waited with deputies for hours while negotiators worked with Tito, who at one point held a 9mm handgun to his head, authorities said.

"I kept thinking that maybe I heard shots," Mr. Morell said.

He was afraid Tito might hurt himself.

"He's sick," Mr. Morell said. "He's a sick person."

Patrol cars from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office blockaded U.S. 41 for six hours. After dark, they put family on the phone with Tito.

"I said, 'They're going to take you to the hospital,' " Mr. Morell said. "I told him that they were telling me they would give him help and that he should give up."

Tito smoked one last cigarette and surrendered. Deputies first detained him for medical evaluation under the state's Baker Act and then booked him into jail on a robbery charge.

• • •

The family says Tito's problems started when he was a teenager growing up in Lutz. At first, the shift was subtle. They noticed a change in his attitude. Then he was arrested for stealing cars, his parents say.

"It kept escalating," Mrs. Morell said.

He spent three years in prison in the 1990s for grand theft auto, burglary and robbery. He was charged in 2004 with similar crimes and was sentenced in 2005 to five years.

His family says Tito pleaded with the judge for rehabilitation at his sentencing hearing in 2005. They said he wanted to be free from his addiction.

But he never got any help in prison, his family said.

"I think that every sign on top of a prison that says 'correctional' should be brought down," Tito's brother said. "You can't lock somebody up and expect to get good results."

Citing medical privacy laws, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said she couldn't confirm or deny whether Tito Morell received any rehabilitation. But she did say the department doesn't have enough funding to treat most of the prisoners' addictions.

About two-thirds of prisoners have substance abuse problems, and about 82 percent of them leave prison without any treatment, she said.

Tito's family doesn't excuse his actions. Eliel Morell said he feels sorry for the people at the other end of his brother's crimes. His mother said, "He's an adult. He should know better."

Tito is in jail in Pasco County on the robbery charge, but he also has a trial pending in Hillsborough County on charges of robbery, fleeing to elude and possession of cocaine, resulting from a May arrest. That trial was scheduled for Monday, but it was postponed.

His family always hoped for a good life for Tito and maybe a family of his own.

But that's getting harder to imagine now, they said.

"The best I can hope for my brother's life now is that maybe his life will serve as an example of what not to do," Eliel Morell said. "Don't travel down that road and expect to get any help."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

Parents are all too familiar with son's legal troubles 03/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 1:28pm]
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