TAMPA — Citing “overwhelming evidence,” a judge on Tuesday denied a new trial for Dontae Morris in the murders of two Tampa police officers.
Morris was sentenced to death last month for the execution-style murders of the officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010. The shootings were captured on Curtis’ dashboard video, which Circuit Judge William Fuente cited as part of the evidence he said overwhelmingly proved Morris’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Morris is also serving a life sentence for his conviction in another murder, the shooting of Rodney Jones, weeks before the officers were killed. He is facing two more murder trials in other shootings.
Defense lawyers had filed a motion arguing Morris is entitled to a new trial in the police killings based on what they argued were several mistakes made by Fuente.
For example, the defense said prosecutors should not have been allowed to present testimony from a jail deputy that Morris said, “I repent for killing.”
That was an abbreviated version of his statement, “I repent for killing five people,” according to the deputy.
The defense maintains Morris was psychotic when he made the statement and was not knowingly confessing
But Fuente, who noted the part of the statement referring to “five people” was not presented, added he had adequately addressed the defense’s concerns before.
Likewise, the judge relied on his previous findings in other issues raised by the defense, including statements by a jury candidate during jury selection.
At issue, there was an incident when potential jurors were being interviewed in Orlando. One woman said, “I have a little theory. If you are in court and have been charged and found guilty of first-degree murder, you are wasting taxpayers’ money to do another performance. You are guilty, guilty, guilty!”
The defense said this was a reference to Morris’ previous conviction in the Jones case, which jurors in the police killings trial were not supposed to know about.
The judge denied a defense request at the time to strike the entire jury panel after agreeing with Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner that it sounded like a reference that the trial would have two phases — the first involving a finding of whether Morris was guilty of murder and the second for the jury to recommend whether he should be sentenced to death.