Man who killed 2 officers gets life sentence in 3rd killing

Dontae Morris (Florida Department of Corrections photo)

TAMPA, Fla. – A Florida man will be resentenced to life in prison for the May 2010 killing of an acquaintance, but will remain on death row for killing two Tampa police officers a month later, prosecutors announced.

The move comes after a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that concluded death sentences cannot be reinstated in cases where a jury was not unanimous, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Jurors voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Dontae Morris in the 2015 trial for the murder of Derek Anderson, 21, said Assistant Hillsborough State Attorney Scott Harmon. A separate jury in 2014 voted 12-0 to give Morris death for killing Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

Anderson was shot in the back on May 18, 2010, outside his mother’s apartment as he returned home from doing laundry at a friend’s house, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors told jurors that Morris killed Anderson after the two men had argued earlier that day about Anderson selling marijuana on what Morris considered to be his turf.

A little over a month later, the two officers stopped a car in which Morris was a passenger, and discovered a warrant was out for him. As they tried to arrest him, Morris shot both officers in their heads. He fled, touching off the largest manhunt in Tampa history before being arrested a few days later, the Times reported.

State law at the time allowed a judge to impose a death sentence based on a recommendation from a bare majority of jurors. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court found the state’s death penalty law to be unconstitutional. The state later rewrote the law, making unanimous juries the rule going forward.

Prosecutors had to decide whether to pursue a new sentence with a new jury for defendants who fell under this ruling.

Morris is also serving a life sentence for the May 31, 2010, murder of Rodney Jones, who was robbed and shot outside a Tampa nightclub.

The Florida Supreme Court previously affirmed Morris’ death sentence for killing the officers. But a second appeal in that case remains pending.