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Library rape suspect: Guilty

October 8, 2010

TAMPA — They’ve told her someone hurt her, leaving her this way. They told her there was a trial, and a prosecutor wore pink in her honor.

But the mother and sister of a young woman brutally attacked outside the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library aren’t sure what to tell her about a verdict Wednesday that took jurors less than an hour to decide.

Kendrick Morris, 19, was guilty. Guilty of kidnapping her. Guilty of aggravated battery causing her great bodily harm. Guilty of raping her two different ways with great force.

The victim, now 20, suffered severe brain damage during the attack. She can’t see, speak or eat on her own. Sometimes, she communicates by smiling, but it’s unclear how much she understands.

She couldn’t go to the trial.

She didn’t see her sister crying in the front row of the courtroom, or the small army of her friends who filled the benches, there to witness and feel and understand what she couldn’t.

The victim doesn’t know just how big a role she played in bringing her attacker to justice.

“She can’t talk to us now,” prosecutor Michael Sinacore told jurors during closing statements. “But she did talk to us then.”

The victim couldn’t testify about the horrible things that happened to her the night of April 24, 2008. But through the evidence, he said, she told a story. She told it with her blood, with her injuries, with some of the last words she said before she screamed into a cell phone:

In front of the library, a “weird guy” was sitting on a bench.

Kendrick Morris was 16. Ten months earlier, he’d raped a day care worker. That night, as the 18-year-old East Bay High School student dropped off books outside the library, Morris caught her by surprise, Sinacore said. He broke her nose, fractured her skull, dragged her away from her car and left her broken.

She’d never be able to say she tried to defend herself, but she left a bloody handprint on a street sign. Sinacore suggested she grabbed it to try to keep Morris from pulling her into the dark field.

Morris’ fingerprints were found on the bench. The victim’s blood was found on his sweatshirt. His semen was swabbed from her body.

His public defender tried to convince the jury that Morris couldn’t have committed a rape because a surveillance video showed him walking into a Walmart more than a mile away, a mere seven minutes after the attack began. But prosecutors said that time stamp was wrong, and the jury believed them.

A verdict came fast.

The victim’s friends rushed back to the courtroom. Prosecutor Rita Peters reached for the victim’s sister and held her hand.

Sobs erupted in the courtroom as guilty verdicts were read aloud. Morris showed no reaction. A judge said he will set a sentencing date next week.

The victim’s sister text messaged her mother the news.

Every day, the mother had thought about that night and wondered who could do this to her daughter. Now, she had a definitive answer.

“I feel peace,” the mother said. “Finally.”

The mother said she once asked the young woman if she forgave the person who hurt her. She believes her daughter responded yes in the only way she could, with a smile.

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