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Crime & Courts

Cortnee Brantley granted bail during appeal

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Published:   |   Updated: July 9, 2013 at 04:00 PM

TAMPA - Cortnee Brantley will remain free on bond while appealing her federal conviction on a charge she hid information from authorities about Dontae Morris, charged in the slaying of two police officers, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Citing "unusual facts and a very close question of law," U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., granted a defense motion seeking bail pending appeal for Brantley's conviction of misprision of a felony.

Moody sentenced Brantley last month to a year and a day behind bars, and allowed her to remain free to report once the U.S. Bureau of Prisons determined where she will serve her sentence.

Defense lawyer Grady Irvin said Brantley was scheduled to report to a prison camp next week. Irvin declined to name the facility.

"We're pleased with the order and we're very fortunate that Ms. Brantley will not be reporting to the camp at which she had been designated," Irvin said.

Although Brantley's actions have outraged the community, Moody has struggled with the federal case against Brantley for the past three years. To this day, the judge leaves open the possibility that her conviction could be overturned.

In his ruling Tuesday, he wrote, "Reasonable jurists could disagree with the conclusion reached by this court. If so, the court's order upholding the jury verdict would be reversed and the defendant either acquitted or granted a new trial. And, if not granted release pending appeal, the defendant could serve her entire sentence (a year and a day) before receiving the result of her appeal."

Brantley was the driver of a car involved in a motor vehicle stop that ended in the slayings of Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab on June 29, 2010.

A dashboard video showed Morris, who was Brantley's boyfriend, shooting the officers and running away. Brantley sped away, hid at a friend's apartment and texted with Morris about staying loyal. When police questioned her later, while Morris was at large, she refused to answer questions about Morris.

Morris was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murder in an unrelated case. He is scheduled to go on trial in November in the officers' slayings. If convicted, he could face a death sentence.

But Brantley was never charged in the officers' slayings. Because she never lied to authorities or destroyed evidence, she was not charged with obstruction of justice.

However, she was charged under the rarely invoked misprision statute, with the federal government specifically alleging she took steps to conceal that Morris was committing the federal offense of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Moody initially dismissed the indictment on the grounds the prosecution could not demonstrate that Brantley committed a specific "act of concealment." Moody held that Brantley had a constitutional right to remain silent when questioned. But the indictment was reinstated by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the judge acted prematurely. Brantley then stood trial twice, with the first jury deadlocking. The second jury voted in February to convict Brantley, but Moody delayed his decision to affirm the jury's decision.

Ultimately, he ruled "by the thinnest of legal threads" that the jury's conviction was valid, although he found different legal grounds than announced by jurors.

Last month, Moody sentenced Brantley to a year and day behind bars. But, as is often standard in federal cases, he allowed her to remain free until the Bureau of Prisons determined where she should report.

Under a quirk of federal prison guidelines, a sentence of a year and a day has the potential to actually be shorter than a year. An inmate who gets credit for good conduct who is sentenced to a year an a day can have up to 54 days taken off the time behind bars, according to federal prison spokesman Ed Ross. That credit is not available to an inmate with a sentence of a year or less, Ross said.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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