Orlando jury to hear Dontae Morris case Nov. 4
TAMPA - An Orlando jury will decide this fall whether Dontae Morris shot to death two Tampa police officers who had pulled his girlfriend over for a minor traffic infraction. Morris faces two charges of capital murder. Circuit Judge William Fuente scheduled the trial for Nov. 4 in Orlando; it’s being moved from Tampa because of heavy publicity from the killings, the massive manhunt that ensued and Morris’ eventual arrest. Mark Cox, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Tampa, said moving a trial to another city presents logistical problems but they are easily overcome. Cox said his agency will have to find lodging for its lawyers and ask the state attorney in Orlando to provide them an office where they can work. Prosecutors’ witnesses also need to have a place to stay.The cost of the accommodations will be paid from the agency’s budget, Cox said. “We’ll pack up and go there and have a trial,” Cox said. “It’s rare. It doesn’t happen often.” Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Morris, who also is facing trials on charges of murdering two other men, Harold Wright and Derek Anderson. Those trials have not been scheduled. This year, Morris was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Rodney Jones, 42, outside the Cotton Club on May 31, 2010. If Morris is convicted in the police killings, the prosecution will try to use his murder conviction in the Jones case as an aggravating factor weighing in favor of the death penalty. Last year, Fuente tried unsuccessfully to find a fair jury for the Jones case in Tampa and had to go to Orange County for a jury pool. The majority of potential jurors in Tampa, about 7 in 10, knew Morris also was accused of killing the two police officers. Fuente and lawyers screened potential jurors in Orlando, then bused them to Tampa for Morris’ trial in the Jones case. Cox said his agency paid for hotel rooms for the jurors from Orlando, who were sequestered. Hillsborough County deputies provided security. Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon said he expects jury selection in the November trial to “take a little bit longer.” Fuente suggested jurors be broken up into smaller groups so lawyers can ask them their views about the death penalty. Harmon said he will take five days to present the state’s case against Morris. Morris, 27, is charged in the slayings of Tampa Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. Curtis and Kocab were on patrol at 2:11 a.m. June 29, 2010, when they pulled over a 1994 Toyota Camry at 50th Street and 23rd Avenue for not having a license plate. Investigators said Morris, a passenger, shot and killed the officers after he thought he was going back to jail on charges of writing worthless checks. Police say Morris fled after the shootings, beginning the largest manhunt in Tampa history. He was arrested four days later.