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Hillsborough teenager is suspect in a second rape

TAMPA — Investigators think the high school freshman accused in a rape outside a suburban library Thursday night also raped a woman last summer at a day care three blocks from his house.

Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said Monday that they expect to charge Kendrick D. Morris, 16, with an early morning assault June 28 at the Children's Lighthouse Day Care Center.

Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said preliminary DNA tests link the Bloomingdale High School student to both attacks. Other unsolved cases will be examined for possible ties, he said.

Deputies arrested Morris on Saturday and accused him of attacking an 18-year-old high school student, raping her and leaving her unconscious outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library.

Sheriff's officials said they used physical evidence and eyewitness testimony to tie Morris to the crime. Fingerprints indicate a match, Docobo said. But so far detectives have been unable to interview the young woman, who remains in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital, sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.

She has drifted in and out of consciousness, and she remembers little about the attack, Docobo said. Through a hospital spokeswoman, the family declined comment.

Docobo and Sheriff David Gee visited the young woman and her family at the hospital.

Morris was being held at the juvenile assessment center on charges of sexual battery with great bodily harm, aggravated battery and kidnapping with intent to commit a felony. A juvenile court judge denied him bail. He is expected to be charged as an adult, Callaway said.

Court records give a glimpse into a troubled home life and accusations that Morris mistreated animals.

On Oct. 29, 2004, he was charged with animal cruelty after witnesses told deputies they watched him beat a duck with a stick until it was unconscious. The incident happened in front of the Hawthorne Care Center, an assisted-living facility in Brandon.

"The young man then reached down to lift the bird's head up to see if it was alive," one witness wrote.

When children harm animals, it can be a sign of future troubles, said Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services. "This is how it starts, and you shouldn't ignore it," she said.

In April 2007, Morris' mother, Lisa Stevens, was arrested on two counts of aggravated child abuse.

A son of hers told deputies she whipped him with an extension cord and a belt. On the boy's back, investigators found more than 40 scars, according to an arrest affidavit included in the court file. Stevens made the boy kneel down and put his hands on a table before each beating, the report stated.

The report did not name the son but said he was 15.

Morris was 15 at the time.

Stevens said the allegations against her were untrue.

"If you look at that report, you'll see who my son was actually pointing the finger at," she said. No one else is mentioned in the arrest report.

Court records show Stevens ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of contributing to the delinquency of a child. She was placed on probation and completed classes on parenting and anger management. She was also required to comply with any case plan put in place by the Department of Children and Families, records show.

In court records, she wrote that she had two dependents and no income.

As for the charges her son now faces, Stevens declined to comment.

"We're dealing with my son right now," she said. "I do not have anything else to say."

She referred a reporter to her attorney, Dirk Weed, who did not return a call.

The mention of a DCF case plan in court documents likely means the agency is involved with the family, probably in a foster-care situation or in placing the child with a relative, according to the agency's regional director, Nick Cox. He declined further comment.

Amaris Quintenz, 15, lived down the street from Morris until about a month ago and considered him a friend.

"This just doesn't seem like him," she said.

She said she was never aware of any family problems, but assumed Morris might have had a hard life because he lived with his grandmother.

"He was always real laid back," she said. "He kept to himself. He'd open up if you were his friend."

Bloomingdale High students got letters Monday informing them of the library attack.

"We're all sort of just shocked by this," said Stephanie Tapley, 14. "We can't believe anyone would do this."

Parents warned students to carry cell phones at all times, and counselors staffed the school to talk to any uneasy students.

"It's a very tragic situation," said substitute teacher Evelyn Camacho, whose 17-year-old daughter, Kaylin, attends Bloomingdale. "Of course, we want to take more precautions in this small community that has grown. We almost don't know how to act."

Times staff writers Saundra Amrhein, Catherine E. Shoichet, Dong-Phuong Nguyen and Justin George and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813-226-3373.

Hillsborough teenager is suspect in a second rape 04/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 3:04pm]
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