Tampa, Florida - Prosecutors are nearing the end of their case against Dontae Morris, the man accused of murdering two beloved Tampa officers June 29, 2010.
The state is calling its final few witnesses of the highly-publicized murder trial, and the defense could start its case as early as Friday morning. Defense attorneys tell 10 News they will present a very brief case with a short witness list, "only one or two people," which means the jury will most likely get the case by Friday evening.
The drama began right away Thursday morning, when defense attorney Byron Hileman made a motion for mistrial just moments after Dontae Morris was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. This would be the third time the defense requested a mistrial in two days.
Hileman became visibly upset when addressing Judge William Fuente. The defense attorney explained the basis for his mistrial request, saying that the voice recognition by multiple police officers of Dontae Morris during the trial is flawed. Many officers and detectives from the Tampa Police Department have testified in this case and identified Morris' voice.
"They are biased and unreliable in voice recognition," Hileman explained. "We are put in a disadvantageous position. This is not a level playing field."
Hileman told the judge that his team was protecting the dash cam video which shows the murders of the two officers that fateful night and that defense attorneys did not get an expert to view the video.
Hileman said, "We kept it under lock and key. We didn't even let our secretaries see it. We didn't get the chance to show it to a lay witness. Those police officers are not experts."
Hileman said he was concerned that the police officers were not voice recognition specialists and that their testimony would be biased in this highly emotional trial.
For the third time this trial, the judge denied the request for mistrial telling the defense, "Your record is protected."
The strongest testimony of the day -- which bolstered the state's case -- came from a Hillsborough detention deputy, Ruben Clemente. He told jurors he heard Dontae Morris talking while incarcerated after the murders, and cops say what Morris uttered is highly damaging to the defense.
"I heard him say, 'I repent for killing,'" said Deputy Clemente. Then, the deputy identified Morris in the courtroom by pointing to him.
The defense countered asking, "Did you hear him say the names Curtis or Kocab?"
The deputy answered, "No."
Also part of the testimony was a Metro PCS representative and detective who talked about cell phone records. Police have long maintained that text messages were sent between Dontae Morris and his girlfriend, Cortnee Brantley, 18 minutes after the murders. They read:
Cortnee: I love u with my last breath
Dontae: Yea just lean bak stay loyal
Cortnee: Of course til death do us part
Dontae: Yea im out with love
Morris also signs off on his texts with the phrase, "On My Own Level," which prosecutors say is his signature phrase in messages to her.
A fingerprint specialist from the Tampa Police Department also testified. Susan Delage told jurors she's done thousands of fingerprint investigations. She testified that she found Cortnee Brantley's fingerprints in the red Toyota Camry that cops say the couple was in that night, but not Dontae Morris' prints.
She added, "You won't always find a latent print. The interior of a car surface can be rough, so there won't always be a print."
A former evidence tech, now-Officer Danielle Larkin, also testified about the chain of custody with all of the evidence taken from the Camry, including DNA and fingerprints. The state wanted to show that the evidence was preserved and protected at all times.
"I always wore gloves when collecting evidence and I placed the items in a sealed bag. It then went to a protected part of the Tampa Police Department."
Jurors took copious notes throughout the morning as they viewed multiple evidence photos. In addition, they often nodded while listening to witnesses.
The wives of the fallen officers could be seen staring at Dontae Morris at the defense table. In particular, Kelly Curtis was seen looking at the man accused of killing her husband more than three years ago. The wives have been surrounded by family, friends and officers each day during the trial.
The state is seeking the death penalty in this case.