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Crime & Courts

Dontae Morris says he’ll cooperate in death-penalty phase

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Published:   |   Updated: October 18, 2013 at 08:28 PM

TAMPA — Dontae Morris has changed his mind and now says he will allow his lawyers to present evidence to try to avoid a death sentence if he is convicted of murdering two Tampa police officers.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin in Orlando on Nov. 4 for his trial in Tampa in the shootings of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab on June 29, 2010. If Morris is convicted of first-degree murder, the prosecution plans to seek a death sentence.

Morris is serving a life sentence for murdering another man, Rodney Jones, outside a Tampa nightclub about a month before the officers were killed.

The prosecution plans to present evidence of three aggravating factors, or aspects of the case, that weigh in favor of a death sentence:

• Morris was previously convicted of a violent felony.

• The slayings were committed for the purpose of preventing a lawful arrest or to escape from custody.

• The victims were law enforcement officer performing their official duties.

Morris’ attorneys told Circuit Judge William Fuente on Friday that Morris has in the past refused to cooperate in their efforts to prepare a defense and present mitigating evidence that they could use to persuade jurors not to vote for death. Attorney Byron Hileman said Morris in the past has also said he wanted to serve as his own lawyer, although that is no longer the case.

About three weeks ago, Hileman said, Morris began saying he would allow some evidence to be presented. Hileman said Morris’ position was “ambiguous,” and the lawyer wanted Fuente to question Morris in open court to clarify.

Fuente directed Hileman to question Morris, who said he had told another lawyer, “We were going to go through with the process. We don’t have to go through this.”

Asked if he would allow the lawyers to call as witnesses his family members and a psychologist, Morris repeatedly said, “I will.”

Likewise, Morris said he would cooperate with a scheduled neuropsychological evaluation. He refused to cooperate with an examination in August.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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