Sara Kocab’s victim impact statement, presented during the penalty phase of Dontae Morris’ trial.
Jeff was my best friend and my whole world. To say my life was impacted by him being murdered would be an understatement. Best friends do almost everything together and that is just what we did. We met when I was 17 and still in high school working at Ponderosa Steak House together. Our relationship began almost instantaneously with a little coaxing on my part – he’d like to tell everybody that. After we started dating, we were inseparable. We got married when I as 19, he was 21 and our life blossomed from there. We exercised together, took karate classes together, played paintball together and were active in church together. I worked in a daycare and Jeff worked with the youth. After I graduated from college, we moved to Florida. I started my career teaching and Jeff followed one of his lifelong dreams to become a police officer. He went to the academy and excelled in many areas, earning multiple awards. He was hired by the Plant City Police Department, where he worked for three years, earning officer of the year during his time there. This award came after Jeff made a large drug bust while off duty in the apartment complex where we lived, which he was the courtesy officer for.
Jeff always wanted to work for the Tampa Police Department. He wanted the excitement of working in a big city and working for a department with such a great reputation. After he had three years as a police officer, he was able to apply with Tampa and was hired right away. He loved working for the City of Tampa. He was having the best time of his life. We were both right where we wanted to be in life. We had been married 10 years.. I was 29. Jeff was 31. And we decided that it was time to start a family.
Shortly after he got hired with the Tampa Police Department, we found out that we were expecting a baby. We were both overjoyed. However, when I was 13 weeks pregnant, we found out that our baby had a condition called anencephaly. Her brain was not developing and our doctor suggested that we terminate the pregnancy. We both knew right away that we would not terminate the pregnancy. We put our hope and trust in God. If his plan was to take our baby home with him, then he would decide that, not us . We both held onto our faith and prayed that God’s will be done.
It was a mentally exhausting pregnancy, but we were getting through it together. On June 28, 2010, we were getting the house ready for my mother to come the next day. I was due to have Lily on July 7 and my mom was coming to be here for the birth. Jeff left the house just like he did every day. I walked him to car, gave him a kiss and told him I loved him. The last time that I talked to him, I sent him a picture of our dog, Dusty, lying on our bed. He texted back that Dusty was waiting for his mommy to come to bed. That is the last that I heard from him.
Early in the morning, I was ripped from my sleep with a knock on the door that would be the beginning of my life spinning rapidly out of control. I can’t put into words the feelings that raced through me when I found out that Jeff was murdered. All I wanted to do was lay right next to him, and that is what I did. It is hard to remember the days that followed. Lily came later than expected. The doctors induced labor on July 21. I had a lot of support at that time, but no support could take the place of or be sufficient enough as the support of my husband. Lily was delivered stillborn. And so almost a month after burying my husband, I buried our baby.
There are numerous coworkers, friends and family that Jeff was an inspiration to. He worked hard to live a life that was pleasing to God. He wanted people to be able to look at him and know that he was different. I have no doubt Jeff is in heaven right now. I believe that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him. Were there many people impacted by the murder of Jeff? Yes. But Jeff’s positive influence during his life will continue in his death.