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Dontae Morris to get new life sentence in third Tampa murder

Dontae Morris remains on death row for killing two Tampa police officers, but will receive a life sentence in a third murder.
Dontae Morris appears during his 2015 trial for the murder of Derek Anderson. [TIMES | (2015)]
Dontae Morris appears during his 2015 trial for the murder of Derek Anderson. [TIMES | (2015)]
Published Feb. 26
Updated Feb. 26

TAMPA — Dontae Morris will be sentenced to life in prison for the 2010 murder of Derek Anderson, but will remain on death row for killing two Tampa police officers.

In court Friday, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon announced that the state will allow Morris to be re-sentenced to life in prison for the Anderson murder. The move comes after a recent Florida Supreme Court decision which concluded that death sentences cannot be reinstated in cases where a jury was not unanimous.

A jury voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Morris in his 2015 trial for the Anderson murder. A separate jury in 2014 voted 12-0 to give Morris death for killing Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

Anderson, 21, was shot in the back on May 18, 2010, outside his mother’s east Tampa apartment. He was returning home after doing laundry at a friend’s house and carried a load of clean clothing in a backpack.

At trial, the state said that Morris killed Anderson after the two men had argued earlier that day about Anderson selling marijuana on what Morris considered to be his turf.

The murder occurred more than a month before Morris killed Curtis and Kocab.

Related: 10 years ago, two gunshots, two Tampa officers murdered

The officers had stopped a car in which Morris was a passenger early on the morning of June 29, 2010. They discovered Morris had a warrant. When they moved to arrest him, Morris pulled a gun and shot both officers in their heads. He disappeared into a nearby neighborhood and touched off the largest manhunt in Tampa history. He was arrested a few days later.

At the time of Morris’ trials, state law allowed a judge to impose a death sentence based on a recommendation from a bare majority of jurors.

Related: State seeks renewed death sentences as Florida high court backtracks on unanimous juries

But in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court found the state’s death penalty law to be unconstitutional. The state later rewrote the law, making unanimous juries the rule going forward.

For defendants already on death row, prosecutors have had to decide whether to pursue a new death sentence with a new jury. In some cases, they opted to have them re-sentenced to life. A number of other local death row cases await new sentencing hearings.

Morris will need to return to court to be re-sentenced to life for the Anderson murder, though the hearing may be conducted by video conference from the prison where he resides.

Morris is also serving a life sentence for the May 31, 2010, murder of Rodney Jones, who was robbed and shot outside a Tampa nightclub.

The Florida Supreme Court previously affirmed Morris’ death sentence for killing the officers. But another appeal in that case remains pending.