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Death Penalty Sought in Killings of Tampa Officers

Death Penalty Sought in Killings of Tampa Officers

Dontae Morris is accused of killing police officers Curtis and Kocab as well as Harold Wright and Derek Anderson.

Tampa Bay Tribune via YellowBrix

July 23, 2010

TAMPA — Four grieving families filled a courtroom Thursday, together for the first time to face the same murder suspect, Dontae Morris.

The wives of two slain Tampa police officers heard prosecutors announce the intent to seek the harshest punishment: death.

And the frustrated families of two civilians learned that for their loved ones, the state would stop at life in prison.

Lawyers understood why. By statute, death penalty cases must meet certain criteria. The law singles out cop killers. The courts typically reserve capital punishment for the most egregious offenses. And convincing a jury isn’t enough. On appeal, death sentences must pass the scrutiny of the state Supreme Court.

But there was hunger for justice Thursday, with four young fathers equally gone, and their families bracing for a long legal journey.

They included Matisse Gallman, mother of victim Harold Wright’s daughters. She looked at Morris and felt something stir inside of her.

“I’ve never felt hate before,” she said.

“And I felt it when I saw him.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies mapped out a security plan in advance. Eleven guarded the courtroom Thursday morning, searching people as they entered. Six transferred Morris from jail. He waited quietly in a back room.

The family of Officer David Curtis arrived in a police van. Officer Jeffrey Kocab’s family followed his wife, Sara, who entered in a wheelchair just one day after she delivered their stillborn daughter.

On a chain around her neck, she wore what looked like a wedding band.

The wives sat side by side in the front row as deputies emerged clutching Morris, who was in chains.

Kelly Curtis tapped her foot as she looked at him, gripping tissues and working hard to hold in tears. Sara Kocab stared ahead, reaching for Curtis.

Morris shot their husbands in the head the early morning of June 29, police say, as they attempted to arrest him on a bad check warrant. The woman with him drove away. Cortnee Brantley, 22, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury. Authorities say she concealed the fact that Morris was a felon with a firearm.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet presided over Morris’ arraignment.

Through his state appointed attorney, Stephen Fisher, Morris pleaded not guilty to all four murders.

When prosecutors announced their intent to seek the death penalty in the two police officers’ deaths, Morris showed no reaction.

“You understand that, Mr. Morris?” the judge asked.

He responded, “Yes, sir.”

But some family members of civilian victims, Derek Anderson and Harold Wright, didn’t understand. Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon, the lead prosecutor on the case, spoke to them after the hearing.

Anderson, 21, was gunned down at the Kenneth Court apartments on May 18, police said. Wright, 25, was killed on June 8 in what police said was a drug-related robbery.

Gallman, the mother of two children with Walker, said she sympathized with the pain of the two officers’ families, but was frustrated that prosecutors were pursuing different sentences.

“What about us?” she asked. “Do the other two not matter?”

The difference between the life and death of a capital felon can come down to 15 points in a Florida statute called “aggravators.” Prosecutors apply them to cases to support the death penalty, and juries weigh them against “mitigators” presented by the defense.

The statute specifically mentions the murders of police officers as a justification for seeking the death penalty. The state does seek the penalty in the deaths of civilians, but Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mark Cox said experienced prosecutors made their decision after examining the facts of each case.

Cox did not comment on the specifics. But the Times spoke to two former homicide prosecutors about factors that could have contributed to the decision.

“In almost every murder case, you’re going to find an aggravator,” said attorney Lyann Goudie.

Killing during a robbery is one. So is killing for financial gain. Many Hillsborough murder cases fall under those guidelines.

The death penalty, she said, is reserved for cases a level above average. She said Hillsborough prosecutors are appropriately conservative in their use of the death penalty, because it is such a severe consequence.

Judging from what he has read about the police murders, attorney Mike Benito sees at least five aggravators, including killing to avoid an arrest and doing so in a cold, calculated and premeditated way.

“The killing of two officers is a very, very strong aggravator in and of itself,” Benito said. “There are no mitigating circumstances that would outweigh.”

Morris returns to court Oct. 14.


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  • Sfa_iv_max50

    revCCBeasley

    over 3 years ago

    2944 Comments

    All has been said...Death

  • 21_max50

    philfroggy

    almost 4 years ago

    1564 Comments

    I think he needs an electric chair.

    wtfover - You are just one of the million guys that I have seen come onto a LEO website and attempt to start a large argument. I will tell you now that there is not a LEO on here that will take you serious. I am curious to know what qualifies you to speak on behalf of our profession and tell us about our training.

    You are correct, Every life is equally important, This is a site for LEO's though and it is a stab in the heart to see our brothers and sisters fall. Life in prison is unreasonable, It is a burden to the state to waste taxpayer money when it is obvious that they are cold blooded killers.

  • Draped_badge_max50

    184retired

    almost 4 years ago

    3806 Comments

    Kill the SOB painfully and slowly.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    wtfover

    almost 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    The difference between the life and death of a capital felon can come down to 15 points in a Florida statute called “aggravators.”

    This is asinine stupidity at it's finest. "aggravators"???? The taking of any human life regardless of age, job title and circumstances is the worst crime possible. They should all carry the *EXACT* same sentence ... life in prison.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    wtfover

    almost 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    Pretty disgusting how you LEOs are blood-lusting for the death of a cop killer, but when one of your own murder a helpless unarmed civilian you either just look the other way or try to explain it away like it was some kind of freak accident. Take for example, ( i can site many more), former officer Johannes Mehserle. He murdered Oscar Grant by shooting him in the back while he lay prostrate and helpless. I see a lot of you LEOs saying it was an accident. Most of you claim he meant to draw his Taser even though all video evidence show differently. First, police officers are trained to draw and hold a Taser with one hand not two. Second, they are also trained to note the difference in weight and feel between their firearms and their Tasers. Mehserle is a cold-blooded murderer plain and simple, and he should/must spend the rest of his life behind bars. In the eyes of God, all life is equally precious regardless of your job title.

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50

    Whalewatcher

    almost 4 years ago

    10938 Comments

    Another oxygen thief that needs a dirt nap, and quick !!!!

  • Img_1050_max50

    Irishcop1961

    almost 4 years ago

    46236 Comments

    Lets hope Morris get what he deserves and that is death.

  • 1979_max50

    Robocop33

    almost 4 years ago

    14600 Comments

    They need to understand that the State does not want this to drag out in appeals. You can only kill the POS once unfortunately so they have two death penalty counts on him and two life without parole to back them up in case of any appeals that might let this POS out on some type of bond. It has happened in the past. This waste of air needs to be put to death quickly and in cases like this I really wish the electric chair was back in service. Maybe the law should change so that the victims families get to choose the method of execution instead of the convicted. Choice of either hanging, electric chair, firing squad, injection, or gas.

  • 1393794_10151798561878138_392793313_n_max50

    Blueblood1974

    almost 4 years ago

    5192 Comments

    Death penalty by lethal injection and that's it!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 4 years ago

    I expected nothing less.
    Just fry this scum bag, the sooner the better.

  • 063_max50

    jims4

    almost 4 years ago

    2610 Comments

    I prayed when this COWARD was captured he would have done anything so justice would be served in the street. But our professionals showed great restraint so justice would be served in the courtroom. Now, judge and jury, it's time for the right thing to be done. Upon conviction, he should be marched directly to the death chamber, I only hope. Rest in Peace Officers Kocab and Curtis. I Thank You for your courageous service. Your families will always be in our prayers.

  • Img00074_max50

    HapkidoKa

    almost 4 years ago

    1098 Comments

    Agreed Collegecop_WA

  • Policememorial---a_max50

    Collegecop_WA

    almost 4 years ago

    2380 Comments

    Let's hope justice is swift and sure in this case and Morris gets his well deserved punishment.

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