Jury recommends death for cop killer Dontae Morris

1:05 AM, Nov 20, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - A jury unanimously recommended the death penalty Tuesday for Dontae Morris, the man convicted of killing two Tampa police officers in 2010.

In the state of Florida, the judge has the final say on whether or not a person can receive the death penalty, but must greatly consider a jury's recommendation.

All 12 jurors recommended the death sentence, after less than an hour of deliberations.

The emotion could be felt in the courtroom as the widows of fallen Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab spoke from the heart. Kelly Curtis and Sara Kocab-Redmon described to jurors Tuesday morning what life has been like since Dontae Morris killed the two beloved Tampa officers.

"Everything about my life as I knew it, 10 years of marriage, four kids, and a happy home changed on the night of June 29, 2010," said Kelly Curtis, who lost her husband, David.

The now-single mother of four boys talked about raising her children alone and how much she missed her husband. 

"I now have the sole responsibility of raising our four boys into the men we had envisioned. I have a 12-year-old son that I have now had to teach how to shave. An 11-year-old that only wishes his dad would throw the football with him one more night."

Kelly told jurors their children were ages 9, 8, 5 and 8 months when her husband was gunned down during a traffic stop.

"I show them pictures of their daddy. I'm trying to put the pieces back. My life was turned upside down. One time, my son didn't recognize a picture of his daddy. I couldn't speak. My other sons said, 'That's daddy.'"

A smiling picture of the Curtis family was shown to the jurors, prominently displayed in front of the courtroom.

Sara Kocab-Redmon also addressed jurors during victim impact statements. She bravely told jurors, "Jeff was my best friend. We met when I was 17. We did everything together. His dream was to be a police officer."

Sara went on to say that she was pregnant prior to her husband's death and, sadly, baby Lily was stillborn. "Just a month after burying my husband, I buried our baby."

She added, "My life changed when I got that knock at the door.  The last thing I did was text him a picture of our dog. He was having the time of his life working as a Tampa police officer. He loved it."

Chief Jane Castor sat next to the widows, along with other officers and family members, offering comfort, support, and solace. Both widows told jurors that they had happy marriages and strong spiritual lives.

Also on the stand was Selecia Watson, the mother of Dontae Morris, who said she did everything she could to raise a good child.

"He was born when I was 16 years old in 1985. My parents were not happy. My mother beat me," she said.

Watson told jurors that she suffered from postpartum depression. "I didn't care [about the baby]. It was overwhelming."

"He was a great student. He was the man of the house. My son was always respectful. He was a good boy, a good student. He got awards in school. I was devastated when he was arrested." 

She went on to say that nothing in his background could have indicated that Morris would go on to kill two officers. Morris' mother broke down on the stand, crying, "I did the best I could."

Prosecutor Scott Harmon told jurors, "The only just decision here is to put Dontae Morris to death."  

The state also informed jurors that Morris was convicted earlier this year of killing Rodney Jones at a nightclub called the Cotton Club, just 30 days before he murdered Officers Curtis and Kocab.

Prosecutors explained to jurors that previous felonies were aggravating circumstances in the case. The state also informed the jury that the murder of a member of law enforcement is also considered an aggravating circumstance in recommending the death penalty to Dontae Morris.

Defense attorney Karen Meeks told jurors, "All life is precious. There are no winners here. The victim impact statements are not evidence."

Following the verdict, Chief Castor acknowledged the jury's difficult job and thanked them for their service.

"He deserved a fair trial and the jury came to the only possible verdict," said Chief Castor. "We do have the death penalty in the state of Florida and I can't think of another case that deserves it more."

Morris' sentencing by the judge will likely take place early next year. A hearing for more evidence has been set by Judge William Fuente for January 10, 2014.

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