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Donate Morris could still be tried in Hillsborough County

5:03 PM, Aug 1, 2012   |    comments
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Dontae Morris



Tampa, Florida -- A surprise move Wednesday as the judge presiding over accused killer Dontae Morris' first murder trial sends potential jurors home.

The men and women were dismissed because several of them were apparently talking about the case when they were told not to.

Morris was on trial this week for allegedly fatally shooting Rodney Jones outside the Cotton Club in 2010.  Morris is also accused of murdering Tampa police officers Jeffery Kocab and David Curtis.

A trial in that case has not yet been scheduled.

In all, Morris is accused of murdering five people.

In the case this week, which started with jury selection on Monday, there were at least 16 instances of people in the jury pool gossiping about Morris even after being told repeatedly not to talk about the case.

The defense says that suggests Morris cannot get a fair trial in Tampa because of media attention surrounding their client. They plan on filing a change of venue motion later this month.

But State Attorney Mark Ober says that doesn't mean they can't find a fair and impartial jury for Morris in Hillsborough County. Ober tells 10 News they just need to find a jury pool of people who will follow the law.

Jeff Brown, a local defense attorney not connected to the case says jury misconduct happens more often than people admit.

"A lot of lawyers like myself are saying this is happening all the time. What is unique about this case is finally jurors are admitting it," Brown said.

"We want (jurors) to be honest and I think what we heard today was some honesty, people saying look I know you told me not to talk about the case but I don't have any self control."

Judge William Fuente said he dismissed the jury "reluctantly" and with "a lot of trepidation."

He said officials will not pursue jury misconduct charges against those who talked about the case.

The penalty jury misconduct is up to 6 months in the county jail.

But ultimately local attorney and former prosecutor Kim Seace the actions of a few will cost Hillsborough County residents money.

"It definitely escalates the cost to have to summon a new panel of jurors back, the state is going to have to re-subpoena all of their witnesses, the defense is going to have to re-subpoena all of their witnesses so there's definitely cost involved whenever a case get continued like this," she said.

About 50 people remained in the jury pool when the judge made his ruling Wednesday.

Officials started with 200 potential jurors on Monday morning.

Some of the jurors still in the pool Wednesday morning expressed frustration that not everyone followed the law.

"It was blatant disrespect for the court system," said potential juror April Peterson.

"(Those who talked) wasted a bunch of people's time (and) money," she added.

Jones family also expressed frustration.

"We wished the jury would have practiced more discretion. For the family it's disappointing because we feel like we were that much closer to getting closure," said Jones' sister Daphane Stephen.

The defense says they'll seek a change of venue in this case because of media coverage surrounding Morris.

A new trial is expected to be scheduled for sometime next year.

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