TAMPA, Fla. -- It took jurors less than an hour Tuesday to unanimously recommend that three-time convicted murderer Dontae Morris be executed for killing Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.
"The fact that they came back 12-0 speaks volumes about the viciousness of Dontae Morris' crimes," said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor after the verdict was announced. "He didn't just kill two police officers. He killed others in the community. If there is an instance where the death penalty is applicable, then this is it. The jury said that loud and clear."
Morris, who also was convicted in March of killing another man, Rodney Jones, faces two more trials on charges he murdered Derek Anderson and Harold Wright.
Castor said the jury decision was no cause for celebration. "I don't want anybody to mistake this for some kind of victory because it doesn't bring Dave and Jeff back and it doesn't bring back ... the other individuals Dontae Morris has killed."
Morris' mother and stepfather had no comment as they were escorted out of the courthouse after the verdict.
The same jury took four hours Friday to convict Morris of murdering the officers during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010. And jurors learned Tuesday that Morris was convicted in March of killing another man, Rodney Jones, in a robbery outside the Cotton Club 30 days before the officers were shot to death.
The prior murder conviction, the fact Curtis and Kocab were killed in the line of duty and that Morris committed the murders to escape arrest were factors submitted by the prosecution in favor of a death sentence.
The defense argued Morris, whose father was murdered when he was 2, had a difficult childhood but looked after his younger brother and sister and played football as a teen. Morris, they also said, has a 7-year-old son and had been active in his life.
Morris' mother, Selecia Watson, testified she was devastated when she learned her son was a suspect in the murders.
She said she gave birth to him when she was 16 and living with her parents, that she was overwhelmed by postpartum depression and allowed her ailing mother to raise her son when he was an infant.
She said when Morris' father, David, was murdered, "It was very difficult. I was faced with trying to have a family and maintain my life, too."
In Florida, jurors do not have the final say regarding a death sentence; their verdict is considered a recommendation. Circuit Judge William Fuente will determine Morris' sentence after convening a hearing to allow the defense to present more evidence. Fuente scheduled that hearing for Jan. 10.
The officers' widows didn't speak after the jury's verdict was announced Tuesday, although they flanked Castor when she spoke to reporters. The women also gave heart-wrenching victim impact statements to the Orange County jurors before the panel deliberated.
"Dave Curtis will forever be known to this community as a hero because of the way he died," Kelly Curtis said in her victim impact statement. "However, I like to remember him for the way he lived. He was my everything. He was my husband, soul mate, best friend and the one person who I could pour my heart out to and he never judged me. He loved me for who I was. He was also the best father my kids could have ever asked for. At the time of his death, our boys were 9, 8, 5 and 8 months old. Today, they're 12, 11, 9 and 4."
She spoke of trying to keep her husband's memory alive, even as her youngest sometimes doesn't recognize him in pictures.
"Our 4-year-old son asked when he was 2, 'Mom where's my daddy' And before I could answer his question, he responded, 'My daddy's in heaven, right?. The bad guy shot my daddy.' No 2-year-old should ever have to ask that kind of question or have that become his reality."
Sara Kocab spoke about the pain of her doomed pregnancy. Their daughter, Lily, was due to be born days after her husband was killed.
They were overjoyed at the news of the child but then were faced with the horror of a diagnosis that the baby's brain was not developing and a recommendation from a doctor that she have an abortion.