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Crime & Courts

Dontae jurors: Dashcam video made the difference

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Published:   |   Updated: November 20, 2013 at 06:07 PM

TAMPA — The dashboard video that captured the murders of two Tampa police officer will have a lasting impact on at least two alternate jurors who sat in the Dontae Morris trial.

An Orange County jury Tuesday unanimously recommended a death sentence for Morris in the murders of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during a traffic stop in East Tampa on June 29, 2010.

“The most damning evidence was the dashboard cam video from the car which showed the entire crime, the murders being committed,” alternate juror James Grogan told reporters Wednesday.

The Morris case was Grogan’s third time on a jury and his second murder trial. The first murder case involved a second-degree charge in Orlando about 10 years ago, Grogan told lawyers during jury selection.

It was an educational experience,” Grogan said of the other case. “Very interesting and emotional. … It’s just during deliberations, some people were quite emotional. It’s a big decision.”

As an alternate, Grogan didn’t get to participate in the decision-making in the Morris case but said he still was affected by the trial. Grogan called the murders “shocking” and “jaw dropping.”

“It was a very traumatic thing to have to go through,” he said. “To decide the guilt or innocence of someone—and then be faced with a life or death decision is something you just don’t deal with.’’

But Grogan said it wasn’t a close call. “In my mind, it was a relatively easy decision,” he said. “Morris left no choice. He made his decision and we made ours. Everyone walked away feeling comfortable with our decision.”

Alternate juror Charles “Chaz” Coleman said watching the video of the murders was rough.

“I will never forget that video,” he said. “It kept me up at night.”

Grogan had a similar reaction to the video. “To see two people murdered right there on camera like that, it’s something ... I never want to see that again,” he said. “It was gut wrenching, a horrendous feeling. You almost become ill to your stomach to see two police officers, our guardians, just ambushed like that. They didn’t have a chance. It was … it was terrible.”

At 19, Coleman, a college student studying business administration, was the youngest person on the jury and became known for the Gators shirts he wore to court.

Coleman was impressed with the case put on by the prosecution but not so with the defense, which he described as “lackluster.” “I was shocked they didn’t put on a case,” he said.

Both men said jurors were irritated by Morris’ seeming lack of remorse during the trial.

“I did nothing but stare at him, and he showed no emotion whatsoever,” Grogan said.

“It bothered a lot of us he actually sat there and didn’t care,” Coleman said. “Looking at the wives after seeing that video, and even looking at them before that video, they .... you could tell how bad they were hurting. This was a life changing experience to say the least.”

It was particularly difficult, Coleman said, contrasting Morris’ seeming lack of emotion with the effect the murders had on the officers’ widows.

“Seeing them cry really hurt a lot and looking over at him and seeing if he showed anything, put his head down, hand over eyes. No. He sat there and kept eyes forward. I don’t know if he ever looked back at them. He wasn’t sorry for doing it.’’

Grogan called the killings “a very cowardly thing to do, just evilness personified.” Morris, he said, is “a cold-blooded killer, no doubt about it, in my mind, an absolute evil person.”

Information in this story was obtained from media pool reports.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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