Dontae Morris will spend what’s left of his miserable, wasted life inside a 6-by-9-foot cell on death row at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.
Circuit Judge William Fuente saw to that Friday when he sentenced Morris to die for the murders of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.
It’s up to individuals to process their feelings about this. For me, it’s emotions of emptiness for the widows and families, and anger that a monster like Morris roamed our streets for so long. He was already serving a life sentence for another murder and faces trial for two others.
He’ll join 397 other men and women awaiting execution in our state, and given the way these things go, it may take 20 years or more before Morris receives justice for his crimes. The roster of inmates on death row shows several men have been there since the mid-1970s.
It’s a miserable existence — although, as former prosecutor Mike Benito noted Friday, “It is still an existence.”
“If I had the choice of sitting in a cell, reading magazines, sleeping and maybe watching TV as opposed to being left in a ditch with my throat slashed, well, what would you choose?” Benito said.
Twenty-eight years ago, Benito prosecuted another notorious Tampa murderer, Bobby Joe Long. Although he pleaded guilty to eight murders and rape, Long, thanks to a lengthy series of legal maneuvers, is still awaiting execution.
“That’s a confessed killer,” Benito said.
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The amount of time between sentencing and execution can be the hardest thing for family members to accept.
“What frustrated me was how frustrating it was for them,” Benito said. “My biggest concern always was getting calls later from the victim’s family asking, ‘How long is this going to take, Mr. Benito?’ Or, ‘Why is it taking so long, Mr. Benito?’
“All I can say is that the courts rule on these by a case-by-case basis. The prosecutor’s job is to make the best case he can, and then it’s up to the courts.”
If there were such a list, Long and Morris would probably run No. 1 and 1A among Tampa’s worst. Oba Chandler, who was executed in 2011 for the 1989 murders of an Ohio mother and her two daughters, would be there, too.
Morris, though, has come to be the face of evil in our city. He has lived a life of violence with complete disregard for the consequences. Even as he was sentenced to die, he showed no emotion.
Say this for the judge who sentenced Morris — he didn’t waste time pronouncing judgment. The hearing lasted only 20 minutes, and then Morris was taken away from our sight, if not our minds.
He will spend all of his time in his cell, except for medical treatment, visitors, showers or exercise. He can have a radio and a 13-inch television (no cable). There is no air conditioning on death row.
The only way he can communicate with other inmates is by talking through the bars of his cell. Those awaiting execution are not allowed to gather in a common room. Every part of their daily routine reminds them they are condemned.
I’d like to think that thought will weigh on Dontae Morris, but Benito said not to bet on that.
“I don’t think it bothers guys like him, I really don’t,” he said.
Morris’ eventual death won’t bring back two decorated officers, husbands and fathers. It won’t make anyone feel better, and I’m always suspicious when people say executions bring closure for those left behind.
The only solace anyone can take now is that Morris will never kill again. He is finally headed to the place where he belongs.