TAMPA — A federal investigation of a detective in his case will not delay the sentencing of Dontae Morris for the murders of two Tampa police officers, a circuit judge has ruled.
A jury recommended that Morris be sentenced to death for the June 29, 2010, execution-style murders of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during a traffic stop in East Tampa. But in Florida, judges have the final say in sentencing matters, and Circuit Judge William Fuente is scheduled to pass sentence on Morris May 30. Fuente denied a defense motion to delay the hearing.
Morris’ attorneys filed the motion after being notified that Eric Houston, a detective who testified in Morris’ trial last year, was later fired by the police department and is under federal investigation.
In his motion, defense attorney Byron Hileman suggested to the court that Morris’ sentencing hearing be delayed until after the federal probe is completed and the information becomes public or until the information is turned over to him by prosecutors.
Hileman said time is of the essence in the Morris case. He said that once his client is sentenced, he has 10 days to file a motion for a new trial, in which he must cite new circumstances. If he doesn’t know the details of the federal probe, he can’t go forward, he said.
“We were put on notice with the problem with Houston, but we don’t have any information,” he said. “We can’t argue it. We don’t know if it affects our case or not. Maybe it doesn’t, but we just don’t know.”
Prosecutors have said they have been told the federal investigation is not related to the Morris case, and moreover, they may not know anything about the investigation until September.
Fuente issued a three-page ruling saying he reviewed the transcripts of Morris’ trial and concluded Houston was not a crucial witness.
“His involvement was largely supervisory over several other witnesses who processed the scene and the other officers’ vehicles, many of whom independently testified to those matters,” Fuente wrote.
And, the judge added, “It is not possible to know when and if the federal grand jury will commence or when it will complete its investigation, or what the outcome of such an investigation might be.”