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Dontae Morris Trial: Officers' widows tear up in jury selection

9:48 AM, Nov 5, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Dontae Morris was flanked by his three attorneys Monday morning at the Orange County Courthouse for day one of jury selection in his death penalty trial. Morris is accused of gunning down two beloved Tampa police officers - David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab - back in June 2010.  

Jury selection is taking place in Orlando due to the intense media attention in Tampa Bay. And as it turns out, the media attention reached Orange County as well.

Out of a pool of 50 potential jurors, 19 people had knowledge about the case, ranging in details. One by one, people were questioned.  Those who knew about the case were taken out of the courtroom, then brought back in individually to be questioned by Hillsborough Judge William Fuente. Most everyone knew two officers were shot. However, few recalled the name Dontae Morris.

And, these potential jurors did not hold back.

One former police officer who was questioned said he would be "prejudiced in the case," while a member of fire rescue said that this "hit home."

Also in court Monday were the widows of Officer Kocab and Officer Curtis. Sara Kocab leaned forward in her seat, hands clasped under her chin. They listened intently during the line of questioning. They have declined interviews so far, but say they will speak out after the trial.

After a jury is selected in Orange County, the case will then be tried back in Hillsborough County.  And because it is a death penalty case, 12 jurors must be selected, in addition to alternates.   

It was certainly a case that captivated Tampa Bay back in 2010, during the largest manhunt in the area's history. 

Police Chief Jane Castor told 10 News she received two phone calls that changed her life that week -- one telling her the news that her two officers were shot, and the other telling her that their alleged killer had been caught.

"You know, I was awakened by a phone call that said that two of our officers were shot. One was dead and the other was not gonna make it. Your first thought is this just can't be real, this has got to be a mistake," Chief Castor said.

It was the worst news a police chief can hear -- two of her beloved officers were gone. She was devastated, as she had just seen one of the officers, David Curtis, the night before at the gym.

After the chief was notified, she would soon face their wives at the hospital.

"One of the things that [former Tampa Police] Chief [Stephen] Hogue, you know we are good friends, he told me when I was appointed chief, the one thing I wish for you is that you never have to walk through the door and tell someone their loved one is not coming home. To have to do that twice, to be the one to break that news," said the Chief.

Castor said the grief was overwhelming. But, there was work to be done. Dontae Morris was on the loose, and the manhunt began. In fact, the Chief admitted that she rarely slept that week and did not allow herself to grieve the loss just yet.

"The more we found out about this killer, found out that he had killed five other people in our community in a matter of a few months, there was no telling what he was gonna do. It was a very tense time for everyone," she said.

"Every moment, 'Have we got him yet? Have we got him yet?'" she added. "I tell you what, I don't know in my life or my career in law enforcement, I've ever felt the sense of relief than when I got that phone call saying, he had been caught."

In a strange twist of fate, the Chief got the news when she was preparing for the funeral. She smiles when she thinks about it because the timing was karmic in a way -- to know that Dontae Morris was arrested just hours before the officers were laid to rest.

"To be able to give Dave and Jeff the honorable burial they deserved, that was something that I'll never forget," she said.

And the moment she got the phone call was also a day she'll always remember.

"I was at my house in the study trying to type the eulogy, and you still have that weight, going into the next day, I'm staring at the computer. And then I got the phone call."

When did she finally allow the tears to fall? Not until it was all over, the night Morris was apprehended. She was alone in her home, and then she went away with family to decompress.

"Really, when it was over. That was when, the time for me, when it was completely over because everyone looks to you for the strength, the community, the department. And, you have a job to be done," Castor admits.

Chief Castor keeps in touch with the wives of both officers, Kelly Curtis and Sara Kocab. She speaks with them often and says the hardest part of the aftermath is seeing the four little Curtis boys growing up without their father.

"We became wonderful friends through tragic circumstances," Castor said.

As for Dontae Morris, who is facing the death penalty, Chief Castor has no feelings for him and says it's a waste of time to spend moments thinking about him.

"I don't have any feelings toward him at all because I believe if you have that hatred in your heart, then that affects you more so than it does another person. I did spend a lot of time in the beginning trying to rationalize those actions and there really is no sense in any of it."

The death of the officers was captured on dash-cam in a graphic videotape that the jury will see.

"It's by far the most horrific thing I've ever seen in my law enforcement career to watch that video," she told us. 

She said this trial will certainly open old wounds, but will also close a painful chapter. 

The Chief said she will most likely not sit in the courtroom during the trial because she doesn't want to be "a distraction," although she is in close contact with prosecutors and others involved.

However, she knows there will be days when she does need to be there, and there's one thing she'll be thinking when she looks at Dontae Morris in court.

"All I'm looking for is that he never sets foot in any community again. He is an evil individual and he needs to be removed from our society."

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