Accused killer Dontae Morris is facing a jury for his first murder trial this morning.
The 27-year-old is charged in the 2010 death of a man who was killed outside of a Tampa nightclub. Morris is also awaiting trial for slaying four other men – including two Tampa police officers.
The panel that will decide Morris' face was picked from a pool of jurors in Orlando. They arrived in Tampa on Sunday. Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge William Fuente thought it would be impossible to find an impartial jury in the Bay Area.
"This case is a criminal case of the State of Florida versus Dontae Morris," Judge Fuente said during a screening process of potential jurors in Orlando last week. "Having said that name, does it sound familiar to any of you? Have you heard it on the news?"
Rodney Jones was murdered in May 2010. He was the first of Morris' alleged victims. The reason the judge went to Orlando for an impartial jury is due to the intense media coverage in the murders of TPD officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.
They died approximately one month after Jones.
Judge Fuente attempted to seat a jury from Hillsborough County but found most of those in the pool were too tainted by media coverage. Some were found gossiping about the Kocab/Curtis homicides and Morris' involvement.
"If you are a juror who violated my order, you should be ashamed of yourself and not proud of yourself," Judge Fuente said after hearing about the chatter.
On Monday, Rodney Jones' family will take a long awaited step towards closure in the death of the loved one. They are hopeful justice will be served, almost three years after Jones was murdered.
"This has been looming over our heads for so long," said the victim's sister, Daphne Stephens.
Jones' family says they're expecting the defendant's relatives to be in court as well. They also wouldn't be surprised if relatives of Morris' other alleged victims stop by and sit in on the proceedings.
While the cost of housing, feeding, and transporting the Orlando jury will reach into the thousands, the victim's loved ones say it's worth it.
"If my taxpayer dollars has to go toward something, I'd rather it go to someone's family receiving justice," Stephens added. "Rather than go toward someone who maliciously committed a crime and we're feeding him and housing him for the rest of his life."
Opening statements are scheduled to begin around 8:30 a.m. Monday. The trial is expected to last one week.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
Didn't find what you were looking for?