Crime & Courts
Dontae Morris jury selection begins in nightclub slaying
TAMPA - A judge is trying to find a jury of Hillsborough County residents who don't know Dontae Morris is accused of killing two police officers. So far, it's not easy, but about a quarter of the 200 potential jurors in Morris' trial in the killing of another man, Rodney Jones, said they had never heard of Morris. Most of the people, though, said they had read or heard something about the man charged with murdering a total of five people in 2010. "Most everybody in Tampa knows his name," said one man, who was subsequently excused from serving on the case.Jury selection was slated to continue Tuesday for Morris' trial in the killing of Jones outside a nightclub. Morris' trials in the four other killings have not yet been scheduled. Defense attorneys this morning renewed a previously denied motion to change the location of the trial. The renewed motion was based on media coverage of the recent federal trial for Morris' former girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley, who was driving the car pulled over in a traffic stop that ended in the slayings of Tampa Police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. Morris is charged with killing the officers. Circuit Judge William Fuente again denied the defense motion but said he would revisit the issue if he cannot select a jury in Hillsborough County. Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon asked the judge to talk to a witness, Ashley Price, who has apparently resisted efforts to secure her appearance in court. Price, another former girlfriend of Morris', has been described as a crucial prosecution witness in all of Morris' cases. Fuente ordered Price to appear as directed by the prosecution subpoena, and she said she would. Most of today was taken up polling jury candidates about their knowledge of the case. The minority who said they hadn't heard or read anything were excused and told to return to court Tuesday. Those who said they had heard were individually questioned. Those who mentioned the police killings were released from the case. Some had only a vague memory of reading or hearing about Morris, and they were told to return for further questioning. Morris is charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in the May 2010 shooting of Rodney Jones outside the Cotton Club in Tampa. Morris also is charged with first-degree murder in the slayings of Derek Anderson and Harold Wright.