TAMPA — A cell phone linked to Dontae Morris placed texts and phone calls immediately before two Tampa police officers were shot to death three years ago, sending signals through towers in the area of the shootings, according to prosecution testimony in Morris’ murder trial Thursday.
The phone was under the name Billy Ray, but Tampa Police Sgt. Charles Massucci testified it’s common for customers of the carrier, Metro PCS, to use phony names on their accounts.
The prosecution says police linked Morris to the phone through Morris’ acquaintance, Temika Jones, who testified she saw Morris shortly before the shootings.
On cross-examination, Massucci conceded he never saw Morris holding the phone in his hands.
Morris is standing trial in the June 29, 2010, shooting deaths of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab during a traffic stop on 50th Street.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Morris could face a death sentence.
The prosecution’s case is expected to wind up Friday, after which Circuit Judge William Fuente plans to ask Morris if he wants to testify. Defense attorneys haven’t said whether they plan to put Morris on the stand.
After that, both sides plan to deliver closing arguments.
The officers’ slayings were recorded by the dashboard camera in Curtis’ police cruiser. But the defense has suggested Morris was not the shooter. During jury selection, one defense lawyer asked potential jurors if they believed it was possible to have a look-alike.
During the traffic stop, the shooter gave Dontae Morris’ name and date of birth to Curtis. Investigators later found Curtis’ notebook containing the information, and his police cruiser computer showing a warrant issued for Morris.
Law enforcement witnesses have testified they could identify Morris’ distinctive voice on the audio captured on Curtis’ clip-on microphone during the traffic stop when he questioned driver Cortnee Brantley and her passenger, the shooter. And one detective said he was sure the video image of the shooter was Morris.
But Morris’ fingerprints and DNA were not found in Brantley’s car or at the crime scene, according to testimony presented by crime scene and scientific experts.
Massucci testified Thursday about records of calls and texts between cell phones linked to Morris and Brantley, who is free on bail while she appeals her federal conviction for concealing Morris’ crime from authorities.
As shown in the video, the shooter ran from the scene, and Brantley sped away in her car immediately after the officers were shot in the head.
Massucci, the police sergeant, charted calls involving the cell phone linked to Morris immediately before and after the killings. The phone signals all used transmission towers within a mile or two of the crime scene.
Massucci said the phone linked to Morris made no calls at the precise moment of the shootings, 2:19 a.m.
Within a minute of the killing, a call was placed from Brantley’s phone to the phone linked to Morris, Massucci testified.
Within 11 minutes of the killings, as first responders converged on the scene and began futile efforts to save the two officers, the cell phone linked to Morris texted Brantley, saying, “Your ride dont need to be park by the spot neither.”
Prosecutors have argued this was an instruction by Morris telling Brantley to hide her car.
“No,” Brantley texted back. “Still n here bt way round corner. I nd to move it sumwhere else tho.”
According to evidence in the trial, Brantley had fled to an apartment complex, parking her car far away from the apartment where she was hiding.
“Just lean bak til 2 morrow you phone in your name,” came the next text from the phone linked to Morris.
“Bet im bout 2 turn my s--t off til 2 morrow i love you.”
Brantley: “I love you with my last breath.”
“Yea just lean bak stay loyal.”
Brantley: “Of course...Til death do us part.”
“Yea im out with love.”
Witness Ashley Price testified on Wednesday that she told police on June 30, 2010, that Morris told her he shot the two “crackers” in the head and provided her with details, including the warrant and that he got the gun from underneath the car seat.
Massucci testified Thursday that those details had not been publicly released.
Jurors also heard on Thursday from Hillsborough jail deputy, Ruben Clemente, who testified he heard Morris say in the jail, “I repent for killing.”
Clemente gave the same testimony in Morris’ murder trial in March in which he was convicted of murdering another man, Rodney Jones. He was sentenced to life in that case.
Morris faces two more murder trials involving two more victims after this case.