TAMPA - They started with 200 potential jurors Monday. Now they are down to none. The jury pool for the first trial of Dontae Morris has been dismissed.
Morris is the man accused of killing two Tampa police officers, Officer Jeffery Kocab and Officer David Curtis. They were gunned down during a traffic stop in June, 2010.
Morris was set to stand trial for another murder, that of 42-year-old Rodney Jones. Jones was shot and killed in May, 2010 as he left the Cotton Club on Albany Ave.
But that will not happen this week.
Judge William Fuente said he struggled with the decision to dismiss the entire jury pool, but in the end had no choice. The main issues were two-fold.
The first being, so many of the potential jurors had knowledge of the case to begin with.
And the major issue being, even after being warned about it yesterday, a number of potential jurors were overhead talking about the case with each other.
Fuente admonished the jury, directing his comments to those who spoke about the case. "It's frustrating to think that any perspective juror would blatantly disregard a direct order from the court."
Leaving the courthouse, a number of the jurors we spoke to would tell us they were disappointed.
Robert Smith said, "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this going and a few people kind of ruined it for us." April Peterson added, "Waiting around with 200 people, you have to know they are going to talk. I mean 200 people in one area, people are going to talk."
As for Rodney Jones' family, his sister, Daphne Stephens, would express their thoughts, "We felt we were just that close to the finish line, and to know that we have to start the proceedings all over again it's very disappointing. It kind of delays our healing."
Dontae Morris' Attorney would tell us there was nothing more that Judge Fuente could have done to try and maintain the integrity of the jury. "Judge Fuente was very careful." Hileman would continue, "He took all the precautions he could possibly take, even going to the point of giving each juror an individual hand written order, or typed order."
But in the end it wasn't enough. And so Judge Fuente informed the court, they will have to go through this again, possibly with another 200 potential jurors, and next time he will take a closer look at a possible change of venue for this case.
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