A federal jury is trying to do what another jury could not – decide whether to convict Cortnee Brantley of a federal crime.
Brantley was the driver of a car involved in a traffic stop that ended when authorities say her boyfriend, Dontae Morris, shot and killed two Tampa Police officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.
Morris is awaiting trial in state court on charges he murdered the officers and three others in the weeks leading up to the June 29, 2010, police slayings.
Brantley is not accused of involvement in the killings, but she is charged with concealing from authorities that Morris was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition – a seldom-used charge known as misprision of a felony.
If she is convicted, she faces a maximum of three years in federal prison.
A jury last year deadlocked, unable to decide whether to convict Brantley. On Tuesday, the jury in the second trial deliberated about two hours before recessing for the day to return to court Wednesday. Jurors asked and were permitted to view the dashboard video of the killings.
Deliberations began after emotional closing arguments in which defense attorney Grady Irvin implored jurors not to compound the tragedy of the officers' deaths by convicting his client. With the officers' widows and family members watching, Irvin also suggested that the victims may have contributed to their own deaths by not taking enough caution when they approached the passenger side of Brantley's car after having received a warning that Morris was known to resist arrest.
"There are three people that could have prevented what happened. Three," Irvin said, and then gestured toward his client. "And she ain't one of them."
This drew indignation from Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston. "I heard it," he told jurors. "You heard it. But it's hard to believe that it actually was said…He actually stood here and said three people could have prevented this, suggesting there was more these officers could have done to prevent their own deaths."
What more could they have done when they were removing Morris from the car, Preston asked. "Shoot him first?"
"There's been one sad day surrounding this, and that was the death of the two police officers," Irvin told jurors. "Let's not today be another sad day by convicting a person that the evidence tells you was nothing more than a person that was trying to do the right thing in life, lousy at picking boyfriends, no criminal record at all we know, tells the truth."
Irvin said the city will have its justice when Morris is put on trial. "They got the person they need and they will prosecute him right down the street at the state courthouse." Convicting Brantley, he said, "will destroy this young lady. We will destroy her life. She didn't do anything. She committed no violation of the law."
But Preston said Brantley is no victim.
"She did not kill those officers," Preston said. "She is not being held criminally responsible for those deaths. But she is responsible for what she did."
"She left the scene, and she left the two officers dying on the side of the road," Preston said. "That was wrong. But when she acted to conceal, that was a crime."
Irvin rested without presenting any testimony or evidence. While cross-examining a prosecution witness, Irvin dropped a bombshell, suggesting for the first time a possible reason why Brantley went to such lengths not to tell police Morris' name during a six-hour interrogation.
Brantley, Irvin said, thought she was pregnant with Morris' child.
This drew an immediate objection from Preston, and the attorneys huddled with the judge at a lengthy sidebar discussion. When Irvin resumed his questioning, the subject was dropped.
After both sides rested, Irvin urged U.S. District Judge James Moody to grant an acquittal without letting the case go to the jury.
Moody dismissed the indictment against Brantley before the case went to trial but was reversed by a federal appeals court.
As he did in the first trial, Moody had trouble with a legal requirement that the defendant took what is known in legal parlance as an "affirmative act" to conceal the felony. Moody previously said the only evidence that fit that requirement was testimony from a canine deputy that the fact Brantley drove her car away from the scene prevented a bloodhound from getting a scent to find Morris.
But Moody told Preston on Tuesday that the government had to prove that Brantley's intention when she drove away from the scene was to prevent the bloodhound from getting the scent.
"So when she drove away from that scene, she's thinking to herself, 'Aha! I'm not going to let any dog smell the seat of my car,' " the judge said skeptically.
Preston pointed to texts exchanged between Brantley and Morris after the killing in which Morris appeared to instruct Brantley to hide the car, and Brantley appears to agree. Brantley also parked the car far away from the apartment of a friend where she was later found.
Moody said Preston's arguments were "a leap," and the agitated prosecutor said, "I disagree."
The judge said he would let the case go to the jury, leaving open the possibility that he could overturn a guilty verdict.