Rodney Jones' family reacts to Dontae Morris sentencing

11:59 AM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- Rodney Jones' family pleaded for the maximum sentence to be handed down to Jones' convicted killer, Dontae Morris.

"It's the first day of the healing process for me," said Jones' sister, Lasonja Houston.

She still can't bear to look at photos of her older brother. His death is too heartbreaking, too fresh, for her to keep the urn that's filled with his ashes.

Earlier this month, a jury found Morris guilty of first-degree murder and attempted robbery with a firearm in Jones' murder outside the Cotton Club in May 2010.

On Friday, Morris had no visible reaction as his sentence was handed down. For his murder conviction, he received life in prison with no possibility of parole. He also received 25 years in prison for the count of attempted robbery, with those sentences to be served at the same time.

"Today, just being able to tell [Jones'] story, this memory, this helps me to be able to move on," Houston said.

In court, she and her family faced Morris, expressing forgiveness, faith, and hope for justice.

"If you're never honest with anyone about these crimes, be honest with yourself," testified Jones' sister, Daphne Stephens. "Be honest with your God, be honest with your son because you don't want to have a young man coming up in this world with the impression that law enforcement did his father wrong."

Morris' mother spoke briefly on the family's behalf, offering an apology to Jones' family.

"Not only have they lost a loved one, they have lost someone who they care deeply about. And for that, I apologize from the bottom of my heart with all the sympathy my family has," Selecia Watson said.

Morris will be on trial again for other murders he is accused of committing, including the killings of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis in 2010. Their widows sat quietly in the courtroom today. Jones' family hopes they'll find peace, too.

"You just know you want your loved one back and you miss your loved one," said Houston. "But in order for you to move on and have that closure, you have to find that forgiveness."

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