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Morris v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

April 27, 2017



         An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Hillsborough County, William Fuente, Judge - Case No. 292010CF010203000AHC

          Howard L. "Rex" Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Cynthia J. Dodge, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, Florida, for Appellant

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Carol M. Dittmar, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Appellee

          PER CURIAM.

         Dontae Morris appeals his convictions of first-degree murder and his sentences of death.[1] For the following reasons, we affirm the convictions and sentences.

         I. Background

         Morris was convicted and sentenced to death on two counts for the first-degree premeditated murders of Officer David Curtis and Officer Jeffrey Kocab. The evidence at trial established that on June 29, 2010, at about 2:13 a.m., Officer Curtis pulled over a red Toyota Camry in Hillsborough County for not displaying an automobile tag. Cortnee Brantley was the driver, and Dontae Morris was in the passenger's seat. The dashcam video from Officer Curtis' patrol car was played for the jury at trial. The transcript of that video includes a discussion in which Morris identifies himself to Officer Curtis, disclosing his name, age, and birthdate. The transcript continues with a discussion between Officer Curtis and Ms. Brantley about the missing tag on the vehicle, and Ms. Brantley states that the tag was stolen.

         Officer Curtis returned to his patrol car, entered Morris' name in his in-car computer, and discovered that there was a warrant out for Morris. He called for backup, and Officer Kocab pulled up and parked behind Officer Curtis' parked patrol car. Then both officers approached the passenger side of the parked Camry. Officer Curtis, with Officer Kocab standing right behind him at the passenger side of the vehicle, asked Morris to exit the vehicle. Morris exited the vehicle as if he was surrendering but instead grabbed a gun and shot both officers in the head. The approximate time for the homicides of Officers Curtis and Kocab was 2:18 a.m. This interaction is captured in the dashcam video in the following way:

[Officer Curtis]: -you know anything about it?
[The Defendant]: The warrant?
[Officer Curtis]: Yeah.
[The Defendant]: I ain't got no warrant.
[Officer Curtis]: Okay. Step over here. Turn around and step and put your hands behind your back.
(Shots fired.)
[Ms. Brantley]: Baby-Babe.

         The remaining portion of the video captures panicking individuals tending to the injured officers and performing CPR. Both officers were transported to Tampa General Hospital where they were later pronounced dead. The officers' autopsies confirmed that both officers died of fatal gunshot wounds to the head. Furthermore, an expert in the field of firearms analysis and identification concluded that both of the projectiles removed from the bodies of Officer Curtis and Officer Kocab were fired from the same firearm.

         Immediately following the shooting, Morris fled the scene, running on foot northbound. Four days after the homicides, Morris turned himself in.

         On the front seat of Officer Curtis' patrol vehicle, detectives found Officer Curtis' notepad and Cortnee Brantley's driver's license. On the notepad, Officer Curtis had noted the name and birthdate of the passenger as it was provided to him when he asked the passenger to identify himself. Additionally, in Officer Curtis' car, the mobile dispatch terminal, or in-car computer, indicated Dontae Morris' name, his identifying information, and a photograph of him. Morris' birth certificate was entered into evidence and matched the name and birthdate that the passenger of the Camry in the dashcam video provided to Officer Curtis.

         Temika Jones testified that she saw Morris, whom she knew as "Quelo, " on the day of the murders in the morning. She remembered that he was wearing a dark blue vest with a white shirt underneath, dark khaki shorts, and white sneakers or tennis shoes. Ms. Jones also testified that Morris called her around 2 a.m. Later that day, detectives interviewed Ms. Jones. When the detectives showed her a photograph, which was a still photo from the dashcam video, she identified the individual in the photo as Morris. She testified that it looked like Morris because of the head shape and outfit and because he had on the same clothing that he had on that morning when she saw him.

         Additionally, two witnesses testified that they saw a black male running northbound from the scene of the incident. Ynalia Keen lived in a bottom floor apartment near where the traffic stop took place. She testified that on the night of the incident, she had stepped out of her apartment to get snacks from a gas station, and, when she heard the gunshots, she rushed back inside. From inside her apartment, looking through a front window that looks out onto the street, she saw a black male running on the sidewalk towards her apartment building, then into the apartment complex, cutting through the middle of the parking lot, and jumping a small fence. When she could not see him through the front window, Ms. Keen went to the kitchen to look through the window at the back of the apartment, where she saw him jump another, taller, chain-link fence.

         The next day, on June 30th, Detective Charles Massucci interviewed Ms. Keen. Ms. Keen identified Morris' photograph from a photographic lineup. Ms. Keen also wrote the following statement: "Seen him on the back road with a group of people. He had ran by my house when the people was shot. Seen him at the Shell store."

         The other witness, Alfred Thompson, was walking northbound on the street where the traffic stop took place. As he walked past the Camry, he noticed that the car had two occupants sitting in the front seat, a black female in the driver's side and a black male in the passenger's side. He also saw the officer in his vehicle at that time. After Mr. Thompson passed the cars, he heard two gunshots coming from behind him from the direction of the police car and the other vehicle, and he hid behind another car; he did not see the individual who fired the shots. Thereafter, Mr. Thompson saw a black male run northbound (on the same sidewalk he was walking on), go through an apartment complex, and jump a chain-link fence.

         Just north of the crime scene, detectives found footprints on the bottom part of the large fence at the perimeter at the back of the apartment complex and also found a piece of a zipper that was torn off from an article of clothing attached to the top of that fence.

         On the night of the murders, Morris called Ashley Price and confided in her regarding the murders. Ms. Price went to the Tampa Police Department on June 30, the next day, and spoke with Officer Kevin Durkin. She testified that she knew Morris as "Quelo" and that Morris called her more than once in the early morning hours of June 29. When she answered a call from Morris around 3:30 a.m., he asked for a ride, but she did not give him one. She spoke with him on the phone again at around noon that day, and Morris told Ms. Price "that he did it, " telling her to watch the news about the police officers. Ms. Price also testified that Morris told her the following: that he shot the officers to get away from them, that he was out of the car when he shot the officers, that there were two officers, that he shot them in the head, that he referred to them as "crackers, " that he got the gun from under the seat, that he gave the officer his name, that the officer had gone back to run his name, that he was afraid that he had a warrant, that he was the passenger in the car, and that he was going to try to go to Jacksonville.

         Detective Charles Massucci confirmed that between the time of the murders and the afternoon of June 30, there were no releases from the Tampa Police Department about the facts of the case to the press or to the ...

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