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Confidential informant helped arrange shooting suspect's surrender

TAMPA — Police say that a confidential informant helped negotiate the arrest of Dontae Morris, the man suspected of killing two Tampa police officers and another Tampa man.

Morris turned himself in to police late on the eve of the funerals of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, who were shot to death early Tuesday. A Hillsborough judge denied him bail Saturday morning, saying he would remain in jail until he is tried.

Police Chief Jane Castor said she doubted the impending funeral played a role in Morris' decision to turn himself in.

"I doubt that he has any compassion towards the officers, or he'd do anything that would help the community," she said.

He was not belligerent Friday night, but he was not cooperative either, Castor said. He invoked his right to remain silent.

"And we didn't question him further," Castor said.

Contact from the confidential informant came Thursday night, authorities said, but discussions fell off at times and police weren't sure at times if the negotiations would lead to Morris' surrender. But they met both Morris and the informant at an undisclosed location about 10:20 p.m. Friday, where he surrendered.

At a news conference before the funeral at Idlewild Baptist Church, Mayor Pam Iorio thanked the community for its support in the search for Morris.

Castor also provided some insight into why investigators released Cortnee Nicole Brantley after seven hours of questioning on Wednesday:

Police hoped that she would help bring Morris into custody.

"That didn't happen and she was charged last night federally," Castor said.

Officials say she would be charged with "misprision of a felony," which is essentially witnessing a felony and not reporting it. She may also face other charges, Castor said.

Asked whether, with the end of the largest manhunt in the city's history, things would begin to return to normal at the Police Department, Castor replied:

"We're forever changed with these events. We will get back to our day to day business, but we will never forget what happened in the last five days."

At 9:54 a.m. Morris shuffled in to the Orient Road jail, shackled at the ankles and wrists, clad in an orange jumpsuit. Four guards surrounded him. Public defender Chuck Traina asked Judge Paul Huey if he could speak with Morris and have him sign some documents. For two minutes, Morris signed and spoke with Traina. Then Traina told Huey his office would have a conflict in representing Morris because the office is already representing Brantley, his girlfriend.

Huey set no bail for Morris.

"Obviously, Mr. Morris will remain incarcerated until he's tried," Huey said.

The guards remained standing around Morris during his brief appearance before Huey.

Traina said Morris asked for an attorney Friday night. But after considering all the representation his girlfriend has received from the Public Defender's Office in the past week, Traina said he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety in a case involving clients who have different interests.

Huey at first seemed unconvinced, asking Traina why his office was making that determination and not a judge. Traina repeated his concern that there was a conflict and Huey agreed to have Traina find another attorney for Morris.

It took just nine minutes before Morris shuffled out of the courtroom.

Huey addressed Morris from the downtown courthouse via TV link. They put the jail in lockdown before Morris appeared so that other inmates wouldn't have contact with him.

Sheriff David Gee said Saturday morning that Morris was being held in the county jail in "close confinement." Hillsborough Sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera, who runs the county jails, said that means is held in a solitary cell 23 hours a day. When he leaves his cell for an hour's recreation, both his hands and feet will be chained.

"My heart is just aching right now," said Janie Morris, Morris' paternal grandmother, in declining to comment further through the window of her beige block home in East Tampa. "We're just praying and meditating."

Meanwhile, Stephen Crawford, a former federal prosecutor, said the charge brought against Brantley is specific to the federal code as there is no similar state offense.

Had Brantley known, for example, that Morris was armed and planned on killing someone, she could have been charged with a state charge of being an accessory. But it appears that Brantley's role Tuesday's killings were much more limited.

"What really had she done other than witness a crime?" Crawford said. The charge suggests that, at some point, she demonstrated some kind of concealment — a failure to tell the truth about what happened.

"It's like you know something is done wrong and you don't report it," U.S. Attorney spokesman Steve Cole explained. The maximum prison sentence for the offense is three years.

The charge is the same one that the mistress of St. Petersburg minister Henry J. Lyons faced in 1999 when federal prosecutors said she failed to tell two banks that the $340,000 down-payment for her Nashville, Tenn., home came from a secret fund controlled by Lyons.

The woman, Brenda Harris, had told the banks the money came from her earnings.

Lyons, who headed the National Baptist Convention USA, was accused of using the Baptist convention's good name to swindle millions of dollars from corporations and $244,000 from the Anti-Defamation League. Harris received probation, community service and a fine.

Shock and surprise have reverberated through Rivertree Landing, an apartment complex, since Brantley's arrest there late Friday.

Neighbors say police showed up at the complex about 8:30 p.m. asking where Brantley was staying. Some residents expressed sympathy for Brantley but disavowed Morris, who was charged Friday night with killing 21-year-old Derek Anderson of Tampa in addition to the two police officers.

Byron Brunson Sr., a Rivertree Landing resident, knew Anderson and his family through the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. "He was an honorable young man," said Brunson, 48. "He didn't sell dope or nothing."

Brunson said he watched on television as Morris was led to a squad car Friday night. The heckles from onlookers only hint at the hostility some feel toward him. "If they would have let the people at him right there, he would have died last night," Brunson said.

Early Saturday, police also arrested Morris' brother, Dwayne Callaway, 21, at a Motel 6 on a violation of probation charge. Officials said they used "physical and electronic surveillance" to determine his whereabouts.

Guests at the motel were startled to see police converge on the property about 1:30 a.m.

Matt York, of Tampa, had been staying at the motel at 333 Fowler Ave. while repairs were being done on his house. Early Saturday, he was standing outside his first-floor room chatting with neighbors.

"Next thing we knew, the whole place was surrounded with cops," said York, 33. "About 50 of them. All kinds. It was wild."

Officers told guests who were outside to go back into their rooms, he said.

Times staff writers Rebecca Catalanello, Andrew Meacham and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report.

Confidential informant helped arrange shooting suspect's surrender 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 5:20pm]
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