Jury finds Dontae Morris guilty in Tampa police officer murders

TAMPA - A jury found Dontae Morris guilty Friday night in the murders of two Tampa police officers in 2010.  He now faces a possible death penalty.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of our trial and are relieved he is not going to be able to hurt another person from our community," said Kelly Curtis, widow.

Chief Jane Castor and dozens of TPD officers flanked the widows while they addressed the media following the verdict.

"There is no verdict that is going to bring Jeff and Dave back or ease the pain of their loss," said Chief Jane Castor.

Castor, who choked up when she spoke, said the officers will never be forgotten and TPD will continue taking care of the officer's families.

The jury, chosen in Orlando and brought to Tampa for the trial, took a little more than hours to find Morris guilty in the shooting deaths of officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. They began their deliberations at 3:19 p.m.

Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The state rested it's case just before noon, but not before showing jurors their most damning piece of evidence-- dash cam video.

Prosecutors said the video captured Morris as he not only fired off his name and date of birth, but also the bullets that killed officers Dave Curtis or Jeff Kocab.

"This video is the strongest evidence in this case of this defendant's identity as the murderer of these two officers," said Asst. State Attorney Scott Harmon. "This evidence standing by itself, on its own, is enough to convict this defendant"

Harmon said the video, in addition to the witness testimony, jail phone calls and text messages provide a mountain of evidence.

"This was an ambush. There is no doubt about that."

Morris' defense attorneys didn't call one witness.

"Your job is to wade through the evidence, to be unbiased, to be the finder of fact, to seek the truth," said Defense Attorney Karen Meeks.

Following closing arguments, Judge William Fuente told Morris about his rights to testify in his own defense.  Morris chose not to testify.

PREVIOUS REPORTS:

On Thursday, key testimony came from a detention deputy who came into contact with Morris shortly after his arrest for the deaths of two Tampa Police officers.

Deputy Ruben Clemente is one of the only people Dontae Morris sees at the Falkenburg Road jail and it's outside a jail cell.

The deputy said he heard Morris make the following statement: "I repent for killing."

Clemente told jurors Morris didn't make mention of officers Dave Curtis or Jeff Kocab, but a Tampa Police Sergeant showed how cell phone records put Morris in the area of the shootings on the night on July 29, 2010.

Earlier Thursday, the judge in the Dontae Morris murder trial has denied a defense motion for a mistrial for a second time.

The defense cited officer bias.

"These are all police officers. Judge there's no secret in this case or in this community that the entirety
of law enforcement in this community has an understandable and rather extreme bias against Mr. Morris," said attorney Byron Hileman.

PREVIOUS REPORT:

The state was locking down its case against Dontae Morris as testimony continued in day two of his murder trial Wednesday. Morris is accused of gunning down Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab at close range three years ago during a traffic stop.

Before jurors were called in, Morris chatted and smiled. His face turned serious during expert witness testimony, including a Hillsborough County Medical Examiner. When asked if he was able to determine a cause of death for Officer Curtis, Dr. Leszek Chrostowski responded, "Officer Curtis died of a gunshot wound to the head with penetration of skull and brain."

Tampa Police detective Henry Duran took the stand and positively identified the gunman as Dontae Morris, after having analyzed the dashcam video that captured the shooting. "When David Curtis asked Mr. Morris to come out of the vehicle, that video again was sliced and I've observed every frame, broken down in milliseconds," Duran explained.

Then friend of Morris referred to as his ex-lover, Ashley Price, also took the stand.

When Price was asked,  "Can you please point to where he (Morris) is and describe an article of clothing?" She pointed at Morris, saying,  "The one in the red shirt."

Price and Morris were lovers in 2010 and Price said he trusted her, called her and confided in her, confessing to the murder of two Tampa police officers, just hours after the shooting.

When asked what Morris told her, she replied, "that he did it." When asked if she knew what he was talking about, she said yes. "Had he referred you to something?" an attorney asked. "To watch the news," she replied.

Price said he did it because he was afraid he would be arrested due to an outstanding warrant. She

went on to say that Morris shot the officers from outside of his vehicle, both in the head.

Later in the afternoon, the defense called for a mistrial, arguing that the state implied during their questioning that Morris was involved in threats against her, and that the trial had been contaminated. The judge denied the mistrial.

Tuesday, jurors saw the dashcam video that captured the shooting of the officers.

"That same evidence will tell you that that vicious, cold-blooded killer is sitting in this courtroom today. He's sitting over here -- Dontae R. Morris," state prosecutor Scott Harmon said.

Dontae Morris could face death if convicted.

The trial is expected to last through the week. Court will return Thursday morning around 8:15 a.m.

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