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Morris v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

June 28, 2019

Jeffrey Todd Morris, Appellant,
v.
State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Escambia County. Thomas V. Dannheisser, Judge.

          Michael Ufferman, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Jennifer J. Moore, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          Per Curiam.

         We review the trial court order denying Appellant's motion for post-conviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850.

         Appellant was charged by amended information with (Count 1) sexual battery while in a position of familial authority, for penetrating the vagina of the victim with his penis when the victim was between age fifteen and seventeen, (Count 2) sexual battery while in a position of familial authority, for penetrating the mouth of the victim with his penis when the victim was between age thirteen and seventeen, and (Count 3) lewd and lascivious molestation on a victim under twelve years old, for forcing or enticing the victim to touch him when she was between the ages of six and eleven.

         The attachments to the order on Appellant's motion reflect the following facts. At trial, the victim testified that Appellant, her stepfather, made her touch his penis with her hands "two or three times a week," beginning when she was six or seven and continuing until she was eighteen. The victim testified that the abuse escalated: she stated she lost her virginity to Appellant when she was fifteen, and that if she was on her period she would perform oral sex. The victim testified that she eventually found out that she was pregnant and gave birth to a baby that she then put up for adoption. She identified Appellant as the person who impregnated her. DNA evidence presented at trial established by a 99.99 percent probability that Appellant was the biological father of the victim's child.

         Video of an interview between Appellant and law enforcement was played at trial. During the interview, Appellant stated that, when the victim was eighteen, she got drunk on New Year's Eve and asked him to rub her vagina; Appellant stated that he pushed her away and told her to go to bed. At trial, however, Appellant admitted to having sexual intercourse with the victim, his stepdaughter, when she was eighteen, but never before.

         Appellant's daughter, the victim's half-sister, who was fourteen at the time of trial, testified that she lived with her father, but "he didn't really pay attention to [her]," stating Appellant largely ignored her and her younger brother. Appellant's daughter testified that Appellant focused most of his attention on the victim, although she testified that she never saw anything that she thought was inappropriate. Appellant's daughter testified that Appellant would occasionally send her and her brother outside to play with the dog or clean the pool, but that the victim would not be sent outside with them. Appellant's daughter testified that she would sometimes try to go back inside to get water, but he door would be locked. Appellant's daughter testified that, when she and her brother would eventually be let back inside, she would see the victim "washing her hands and crying."

         Appellant's twelve-year-old son also testified that when his mother was at work, and he and the victim were home with Appellant along with Appellant's daughter, Appellant would send his own children outside and that his son would find the door locked when he attempted to reenter.

         The jury found Appellant guilty on all three counts, and the court sentenced him to concurrent thirty-year sentences for Counts 1 and 2, and to life in prison for Count 3.

         Appellant filed an amended motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 raising seven grounds for relief. Pertinent here, Appellant claimed newly discovered evidence, and attached an affidavit from Appellant's daughter in which she swore that she now did not believe that Appellant had molested her sister. She stated that she felt she had been "coached or brain washed" to take her mother and sister's side over her father's, and that her mother "put a lot of things in [her] head." She stated that she had testified in court that her father didn't pay attention to her, and stated she now knows that his attention was focused on the victim "because they were in a relationship." Appellant's daughter stated that she felt she had been obligated to protect her mother and sister, and stated that "I think what my father did was very wrong, but in my heart I don't feel like he should be doing life for something he did not do something their [sic] is no proof of."

         In his motion, Appellant also claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call Appellant's parents and Ami Morris as witnesses at trial, failing to go over the victim's text messages with Appellant, and failing to introduce a letter Appellant wrote to his father in which he admitted having a sexual relationship with his eighteen-year-old stepdaughter. Appellant additionally raised two sentencing issues.

         The postconviction court summarily denied the motion[*], finding that Appellant's daughter's recanted testimony would not probably produce an acquittal on retrial and that Appellant could not show prejudice on ...


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