By Elaine Silvestrini
TAMPA, Fla. — Sara Kocab forgave Dontae Morris on Thursday for murdering her husband, but then asked a judge to sentence Morris to death.
Kelly Curtis said Morris played football with her brother, and she has pictures at home of the two playing together. Morris was good at football, she said.
"He had the chance to make something of himself," said the widow of David Curtis, one of two police officers Morris shot to death during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010. "He could have gone far with football. He chose the life that he is living right now ... His father was killed when he was a child and he delivered that same fate to my children."
The two widows and other family members were permitted to address Circuit Judge William Fuente in a hearing held to help him decide whether to go along with a jury recommendation that Morris be sentenced to death for the murders of officers Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.
Defense lawyer Byron Hileman vehemently objected to the statements and interrupted some victims to object when they addressed Morris instead of the judge.
Although Fuente said the victims have the constitutional right to speak, the judge also said he is not permitted to take their statements into account in making his decision. "That's the law," Fuente said.
Both widows previously gave victim impact statements in front of the jury that recommended in November that Morris be sentenced to death.
On Thursday, they gave briefer statements.
"I will always be heartbroken for the loss of my husband," Kocab said, and then told Morris, "I am not angry at you and I forgive you for killing my husband." Then she addressed Fuente: "I ask you to sentence him to death for the three murders that he has been convicted of by a jury of his peers."
Morris is already serving a life term for his conviction of the murder of another man, Rodney Jones, weeks before the officers' slayings. He faces two other murder trials in the killings of Harold Wright and Derek Anderson.
As Kocab made the comment about the three murders, Hileman again rose to strenuously object.
But Sara Kocab had finished. "I'm done," she said quietly as she turned to go back to her seat.
Kocab earlier noted testimony during the trial that Morris had said in jail that he repented.
"In repenting, you take responsibility and accept consequences" for your actions, she said. "I expect that if he had asked Jesus for forgiveness, he would take responsibility and plead guilty... It is not about the words that he says, but the condition of his heart."
Jeffrey Kocab's mother and sister also spoke Thursday.
Kocab's mother, Sandra, said "angry words that aren't part of my normal vocabulary scream out" in her mind when it comes to Morris. "But I refuse to lower my standards and use those words."
Instead, she described the two officers as "enthusiastic, energetic, fun living and dedicated sons, husbands, brothers, Christians and friends." She quoted Nelson Mandela and the Bible about love.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion," she said, quoting Mandela. "People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love."
Sandra Kocab said she felt sorry for Morris because "You were never taught to love."
But she said she's not ready to forgive Morris. "Maybe in time, but not now."
Kocab's sister, Stephanie, told Morris he had "stopped all my dreams" that the brother she called Jake will be there for her when she gets married and has children. "I have nightmares of Jake suffering," she said. "And what bothers me the most is I wasn't there for him."
Kelly Curtis told Fuente she didn't want to "yell and scream" at Morris. "He's taken enough from me and from my family. I'm not going to give him the satisfaction to take more from my life... We're here today because of his choices. He made the decision to take my husband ... I had to comfort my crying 4-year-old the other night. He kept saying over and over again, 'I wish I had a father like everyone else.' Because of Dontae Morris, he doesn't."
And David Curtis' mother, Cindy Warren, said Morris didn't show any remorse during the trial, even when watching the dash cam video of the murders.
"He showed absolutely nothing," she said. "It was reported that he repented in jail, but that was a lie. If that was true that he actually repented, he would have pleaded guilty and spared us this trial. ... To me, lying about repentance is as bad as murder. I think he should ask this court to put him to death immediately without any hesitation and he should repent for his sins ... anything short of this would be totally unacceptable. And I think he should do the right thing for the first time in his life."
But Morris chose not to speak at the hearing. Fuente told him he had a right to address the court, but he said no.
The defense presented only one witness Thursday, Dr. Valerie McClain, who testified Morris has a "limited intellect and to some extent, limited adaptive skills." McClain said she previously determined that while Morris was in jail, he suffered from depression with psychotic features.
She said she also examined Morris when he was refusing to cooperate in the preparation of a defense against the death penalty, and she found his reasons to be rational -- that he wanted to spare his mother and sister through the stress of testifying on his behalf.
But McClain said she was able to find no other evidence of anything that could legally weigh against a death sentence.
The hearing is scheduled to resume Friday when the prosecution is expected to present an expert to rebut McClain's testimony.
Copyright 2014 the Tampa Tribune
McClatchy-Tribune News Service