Advertisement
  1. News

Attorneys seek to cast doubt on Dontae Morris confession

The defense team for the convicted Tampa cop killer is trying to convince a judge he deserves a new trial.
Dontae Morris attends the first day of a hearing in a Tampa courtroom on Monday. His attorneys hope to convince a judge that his first trial in the shooting deaths of two police officers was not a fair one. [Pool]
Dontae Morris attends the first day of a hearing in a Tampa courtroom on Monday. His attorneys hope to convince a judge that his first trial in the shooting deaths of two police officers was not a fair one. [Pool]
Published Aug. 20, 2019

TAMPA — Six years ago, Ashley Price testified that Dontae Morris called her the day after the slayings of two Tampa police officers and said he had shot the “crackers” during a traffic stop.

The testimony was a key piece of evidence against Morris during his 2013 trial for the murders of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. A jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

Now Price’s testimony is in the cross-hairs of Morris’s new defense attorneys as they try to convince a judge this week that Morris deserves a new trial because his first one was unfair.

The lawyers for the office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency that represents death row inmates, contend that Price lied, that the jury was tainted by video images of the aftermath of the shootings, and that Morris’s trial attorneys failed to present important evidence that could have swayed the jury, including information about his mental state.

In the hearing that began Monday and continued Tuesday, Morris’s attorneys tried to undermine Price’s credibility, presenting evidence aimed at casting her as a liar motivated by $95,000 in reward money and a desire to land a lenient sentence for her own criminal charges that were pending at the time.

When Price took the stand Monday, defense attorney Ann Marie Mirialakis peppered her with questions about what motivated her to drive to the Tampa police station on June 30, 2010 — the day after the murders — to tell detectives about Morris’s confession and then cooperate as a witness for the prosecution three years later.

Mirialakis noted that Price faced a recommended prison sentence of more than six years for violating probation on three felony charges, but the case was continued until after Price testified in Morris’ hearing. She was ultimately sentenced to five years of probation.

“Miss Price, were you ever told by your attorney, the state, anybody, that testifying against Dontae Morris could help you get a lesser sentence?” Mirialakis asked.

"No, ma'am," Price answered.

"Did you hope it would help?"

“No, ma’am.”

Morris, now 33, was the subject of the largest manhunt in Tampa history in the four days that followed the June 29, 2010 murders. A reward of $95,000 was offered for his capture. Price did not receive reward money but testified during Morris’ 2013 trial that that Tampa Police Department helped her with moving expenses after she was evicted.

Another question from Mirialakis foreshadowed likely testimony from James Baird, a former boyfriend of Price’s, who is expected to testify that she told him she made up the story about Morris calling and confessing.

“Have you ever told James Baird that Dante Morris never actually confessed to you?” Mirialakis asked.

“No, ma’am,” Price replied.

Attorneys for Dontae Morris brought Ashley Price back to the stand in an effort to show she lied about hearing Morris confess to the 2010 shooting deaths of two Tampa police officers. Morris was convicted in the slayings and sentenced to death and now a new defense team is seeking a new trial. Price denied that she told a former boyfriend that she made up the story about Morris confessing. [TONY MARRERO | Pool photo]

Whether Baird, who is in jail on unrelated charges, will actually testify as planned on Wednesday was cast into doubt Tuesday when Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon played a jail call recorded Monday night between Baird, Mirialakis and co-counsel Ali Andrew Shakoor.

In the call, Mirialakis and Shakoor can be heard telling Baird how Price testified earlier in the day. Baird replied that her account is untrue.

“She told me it was a lie,” Baird replied.

Disclosing to Baird how Price testified tainted him as a witness, Harmon told Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco. Harmon said he would file a motion seeking to disqualify Baird as a witness in the hearing.

The proceedings are slated to resume Wednesday morning and conclude Thursday. A separate phase focused on Morris’s mental health is scheduled for October.

In addition to the officer killings, Morris was convicted in the separate murders a few weeks earlier of Rodney Jones and Derek Anderson.

He received a life sentence for killing Jones, and a third death sentence in Anderson’s murder. The sentence in the Anderson case was later overturned because the jury was not unanimous in its recommendation for capital punishment. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek a new death sentence in the case.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. Hyde House in Hyde Park Village on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Tampa.  [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
  2. FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, Disney CEO Robert Iger arrives at the world premiere of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker", in Los Angeles  The Walt Disney Co. has named Bob Chapek CEO, replacing Bob Iger, effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.  (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, FIle) [JORDAN STRAUSS  |  Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]
  3. 7/6/01 Coleman, Fl.   Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fl. in Sumter County. The prison's women's camp has confirmed cases of Legionnaires' disease [CLIFF MCBRIDE  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  4. U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R- Dover, recently repeated the defense he’s offered since his 2018 election over illegal contributions to his campaign. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times (2017)]
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [TMCCARTY  |  times staff]
  6. Ryan Lotito Sr., left, of Spring Hill pitches to his son Ryan Lotito Jr. to work on his swing techniques at the Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Spring Hill.
  7. Two firms have acquired majority ownership of Univision Communications Inc., the largest provider of Spanish-language television in the U.S. [Miami Herald]
  8. Tourists take pictures of the Olympics rings Monday, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) [JAE C. HONG  |  AP]
  9. In this June 17, 2019, file photo, a cashier displays a packet of tobacco-flavored Juul pods at a store in San Francisco. Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.  (AP Photo/Samantha Maldonado, File) [SAMANTHA MALDONADO  |  AP]
  10. Residents at Tampa Park Apartments have been told they must move out by Nov. 1 because the 21-acre property between downtown Tampa and Ybor City has been sold. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
  11. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
  12. More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement