Friday, May 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Dontae Morris' trial about victims, not justice

This is always the Kabuki dance of jurisprudence. The defendant, Dontae Morris, is on trial for the murder of two Tampa police officers. So obvious is his guilt that the only pretrial issue was whether Morris would cooperate with his attorneys in the expected death penalty phase of the proceedings.

Morris eventually agreed. And why not? He doesn't have all that much to do anyway.

The issue, of course, is the trial itself. Or more pointedly, seating a jury of 12 people. It's called selecting a jury of one's peers. But given that Morris is the poster child for being a low-life, vicious thug, do we really want to seat a jury of peers drawn from Reservoir Dogs to sit in judgment of an accused cop killer?

Because of massive pretrial publicity, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente decided to find a jury among Orlando area residents. But this hardly helped matters, especially since many prospective jurors admitted either they were former law enforcement officers, or had friends and family associated with police work. And there were those who already decided Morris was guilty.

Then there were some people in the jury pool who couldn't be bothered with performing their civic duty, offering up one lame excuse after another as to why they couldn't serve, including one oaf who claimed she needed to be near her beloved son who had just been diagnosed with asthma.

"How old is he?" Fuente asked.

"Forty-nine." Poor baby.

So this is what we're left with — a capital murder case involving the 2010 slayings of two police officers, Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, who gave their lives protecting society. The jury that is likely to sit in judgment of Morris is made up of either people who have no current events knowledge, virtually no grasp of the criminal justice system and/or a deep, abiding desire to get out of fulfilling a basic responsibility of citizenship. Cue the Law & Order theme.

Still, we have to go through the formal stages of a trial, even though the eventual verdict is more predictable than the tides.

The good news is that no matter what happens in this case, Dontae Morris, who is already serving a life sentence with no parole in another killing, will never draw a free breath for the rest of what remains of his life.

But just for once in his miserable, violent existence Morris could have just done the right thing by pleading guilty and accepting his fate before Judge Fuente. Yes, wishful thinking, to be sure.

It would have spared the families and friends of the officers the anguish of reliving all the gory details of the men's murders. And it would have saved society some small embarrassment of once again being reminded that so often the legal system is placed in the hands of juries made up of the Bowery Boys meets Maynard G. Krebs.

Even with the imposition of the death penalty, Morris would likely spend many years on Florida's death row before having his sentence carried out.

So why do we bother with all this — going through the motions even knowing the probable conclusion? Maybe it's not so much for Morris, but for his victims.

These were young men who every day put on their uniforms and took to the streets to protect the rest of us from the Dontae Morrises of the world. It's what cops do.

The world needs to hear about their stories, their sacrifices — even if an Orlando jury pool doesn't.

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