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Dontae Morris sentenced to death for 2010 murders of Tampa officers

Dontae Morris sits in the courtroom during his sentencing Friday for the 2010 shooting deaths of two Tampa police officers.
Dontae Morris sits in the courtroom during his sentencing Friday for the 2010 shooting deaths of two Tampa police officers.
Published May 31, 2014

TAMPA — The long, hard four years ended Friday for families of two Tampa police officers killed during a traffic stop in 2010.

Dontae Rashawn Morris, 28, was sentenced to die.

A jury said months ago that he should. After poring over trial transcripts, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente agreed, finding little in the turmoil of Morris' past to offset the premeditated murder of two law enforcement officers.

David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, each 31 years old, were shot in the head without warning on June 29, 2010, along an East Tampa roadside. And the judge knew it wasn't the first time Morris had killed a man.

"I do order that Mr. Morris be taken by the proper authorities to the Florida State Prison and there be kept under confinement until a day for execution is set," the judge said. "I do order that on that said date, Mr. Dontae Morris be put to death in the manner provided by law."

There were no outbursts. Courthouse deputies had warned against them. Morris sat quietly, as did the families of the men whose lives he took and some of their fellow officers.

Morris' mother, Selecia Watson, declined to comment.

Chief Jane Castor watched the sentencing live-streamed on a laptop computer at 5:30 a.m. in San Francisco, where she was attending a series of high-level police chief seminars.

"It was a tremendous sense of relief to finally have justice and some conclusion to this tragedy," she said through spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

At a news conference in Tampa, Deputy Chief Brian Dugan stood beside Curtis and Kocab family members. "This sentence was about justice," he said. "It wasn't about revenge."

He introduced widow Kelly Curtis, who spoke for the families and asked that the two men never be forgotten.

"This has been an extremely long, hard and trying four years," she said. "Our faith, our family and our friends have helped to get us through this process. Dave and Jeff died as heroes trying to protect this community."

Sgt. Mark Delage, who oversees care of the officers' families, said he has seen the widows, including remarried Sara Kocab-Redmon, grow and blossom since the dark, confusing days of that summer.

Their lives changed forever on June 29, 2010. That was the night Curtis spotted a missing tag on a Toyota Camry driven by Morris' then-girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley. Morris, in the passenger seat, gave his real name.

Curtis couldn't have known that Morris killed Rodney Jones 29 days earlier or that he eventually would be charged with the deaths that spring of Derek Anderson and Harold Wright.

A records check showed a Jacksonville warrant for a bad check, an error, it turned out.

Kocab arrived as backup.

A dash cam video showed officers approaching and Morris rising from the car. Shots exploded and the officers collapsed.

Morris ran and was arrested after a four-day manhunt, the largest in the city's history.

Brantley sped away. She was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for concealing from authorities that Morris was a felon with a loaded gun. She is free pending appeal.

Before Friday's hearing, Morris had already been sentenced to life for killing Jones.

He won't be tried before next year on charges that he killed Anderson on May 18, 2010, as the victim returned home from doing laundry, or charges that he killed Wright on June 8, 2010.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon said Friday that the state will seek the death penalty in the Anderson case.

Many years likely will pass before the state puts Morris to death. As of 2012, the average time between sentencing and execution was more than 16 years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.

Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382.

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