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Cortnee Brantley, accused of driving car linked to officers' deaths, released from jail

SEFFNER — A week after going to jail in a police car, Cortnee Brantley returned to her childhood home Friday in her attorney's silver Mercedes.

News crews pounced with questions, eager for a sound bite or reaction from the woman who police say drove off after watching her on-again, off-again boyfriend gun down two officers at a traffic stop.

Brantley, known to her neighbors as a quiet girl, walked inside without saying a word.

She gave no hint about why she left the scene, or how she came to be with a man who served time in prison. Nothing to explain how a young woman whose grandmother spent decades setting children on the right path could see her own life veer off course so sharply.

Authorities don't have evidence that Brantley, 22, participated in the police shooting. But they have charged her with a federal crime of concealing the fact that Dontae Morris, the accused triggerman, was a felon in possession of a firearm.

Freed by a judge on $25,000 bail, Brantley is now under house arrest in the single-story, concrete block home where she grew up.

• • •

Before her name became synonymous with a local tragedy, Brantley lived a life outside the spotlight.

"She's a real nice person," said Eddie Grover, a neighbor. "She's quiet and hung out with all the girls around here. Everyone's taking it hard."

Her MySpace page is titled "Follow Your Dreams." She lists her mother and grandma as her heroes. She likes the movie Long Kiss Goodnight and enjoys dressing up in high heels and fancy clothes.

She told a judge this week that she doesn't do marijuana but sometimes drinks.

She smokes Newport cigarettes. She is an Aquarius who pays attention to her horoscope.

She gets her hair done every two weeks. A friend's children jokingly call her "ugly, ugly" because they think she is pretty.

She and her younger sister were raised by their single mother, a worker's comp specialist who has held the same job for the past 12 years. Her grandmother, who worked at Head Start in Hillsborough for 32 years, lives close by.

Brantley attended Mann Middle School, then headed to Armwood High School in ninth grade.

In her freshman class picture in 2003, she pulled her hair back and swept it to the side, her long locks draped over her right shoulder. She smiled with her lips closed.

She didn't distinguish herself as a student at Armwood, where D's and F's littered her report cards.

With failing grades, Brantley dropped out her junior year.

Her teenage years saw some minor run-ins with the law. In 2004, she picked up misdemeanor charges for petty theft and resisting an officer. In June 2006, she gave a false name to a Temple Terrace police officer. Both times, judges withheld adjudication.

Her driving record is filled with violations. Records show her license was suspended in 2004, and she has been cited for failing to obey a traffic sign, driving with a license that has been suspended, canceled or revoked, a seat belt violation, expired tag and unlawful speed.

Despite those troubles, she earned her GED, her mother has said. She worked at both Hardee's and Checkers before becoming a student last September at Hillsborough Community College, studying psychology.

Her mother says she was the sensitive type, prone to tears when a pet fish died.

She could be helpful to a fault, say those who know her. One friend says she was trying to help Morris, a felon with a long record. It's unclear where they met, though school records show they were both enrolled at Armwood for a few of the same months one year.

Brantley visited him four times during his most recent prison stint on cocaine charges. In March 2009, guards scolded them for getting frisky.

Brantley stopped coming home every night after she bought a Toyota Camry a few weeks ago, her mother said. She was driving Morris in that car June 29 before police say he got out and shot two Tampa officers dead.

Her mother yelled at her when they met later that day at the police station.

"We can't pick who our daughters date," defense attorney Grady Irvin said.

Staff writer Kim Wilmath and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

Cortnee Brantley, accused of driving car linked to officers' deaths, released from jail 07/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 11:20pm]
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