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Tampa marks first anniversary in shooting deaths of officers Kocab, Curtis

TAMPA — Pam Iorio thinks every day about June 29.

She remembers police Chief Jane Castor calling in the night: "Mayor, I've got real bad news."

She sees the line of uniformed police officers standing outside two hospital rooms. And she remembers Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, lifeless.

"I just won't ever forget that feeling of such despair," the former mayor said Tuesday.

Today marks the first anniversary of the night Curtis pulled over a maroon Toyota Camry on 50th Street, Kocab joined him at the scene for backup and Tampa awoke to a nightmare.

Two police officers shot. A killer on the loose. The city thrown into an unprecedented manhunt lasting four days.

Castor said she's particularly affected when she goes to the police gym, the place she often ran into Curtis. Now, when no one else is there, she turns on Michael Jackson's greatest hits, Curtis' favorite.

"We were devastated with the deaths of Dave and Jeff," she said. "I just can't believe that a year has passed."

During the manhunt, Castor repeatedly locked her eyes on news cameras and told Dontae Morris, the suspected shooter, to turn himself in.

And he did, somehow, three days later at a South Tampa law office.

How it happened remains unexplained. Did he go willingly? Who's the informer who accompanied him? And where was Morris those 68 hours?

Police still haven't answered many questions. And with a trial likely months away, those answers may not come soon.

It's even possible the case might not make it to trial, said St. Petersburg defense lawyer Pat Doherty, who isn't involved in the Morris case.

The defense might be willing to accept a plea deal that avoids capital punishment, Doherty said. Morris, 25, faces the death penalty for the officers' shootings.

"The goal here for the defense lawyers is going to be to try to save this guy's life," Doherty said.

But prosecutors might not offer a deal. Proposals like that can be tricky for the State Attorney's Office, which works closely with local law enforcement every day, Doherty said.

And Morris also has been charged in three other murders.

Prosecutors declined to comment, and Morris' defense attorney, Byron Hileman, did not return calls Tuesday.

One of the biggest remaining questions — and one that could mean jail time for some — is: Who helped Morris hide?

Tidbits of evidence released in court documents indicate someone picked up Morris near the scene of the shooting. One witness told police he saw Morris in a white car with his brother "D" about 2 a.m., a police report states.

And though Castor warned that anyone who helped Morris hide would also face prosecution, no one yet has been charged.

She declined to talk about the investigation Tuesday, saying simply that it continues.

The appropriate charge for someone who helped Morris would be accessory after the fact, a first-degree felony when the original crime is murder, Doherty said.

To charge someone with that, Florida law says prosecutors must prove that those who aided Morris knew he committed a crime and intended to help him avoid or escape arrest.

Also, immediate family members can't be charged with accessory after the fact. They're exempt in every case, except those involving minors.

Morris remains in a high-profile section of the Falkenburg Road Jail, locked in a cell 23 hours a day. His next hearing is Sept. 9.

In the meantime, police say they'll continue honoring the memory of Curtis and Kocab. They plan to unveil a memorial tonight at the District 3 office in east Tampa, where the two officers worked.

"It's good to be able to honor Jeff and David," Castor said. "On the other hand, it brings back all those feelings. But it's part of the healing process. We'll get through it together."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

If you go

What: Hallway of Heroes Memorial dedication

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: District 3 office, 3808 N 22nd St., Tampa

Tampa marks first anniversary in shooting deaths of officers Kocab, Curtis 06/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 8:59am]

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