State Attorney Andrew Warren announced Tuesday prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the Seminole Heights murder cases against Howell Donaldson III.
“This case, in which the defendant murdered four innocent victims in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner, qualifies,” Warren said.
Donaldson is facing four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton. All four people were killed within a few weeks of each other in Seminole Heights, sparking a 51-day investigation and manhunt for the suspected killer and terrorizing the Tampa neighborhood.
Donaldson was arrested in November after police say he handed a fellow Ybor City McDonald’s employee a bag with a gun inside, leading the employee to tip off police.
Warren added there was no evidence of mental illness that would give prosecutors pause about their decision to pursue the death penalty.
“The death penalty is for worst of the worst... and that’s exactly what we have here,” Warren said.
Warren acknowledged that decision can’t bring back any of the victims, but his office arrived at the decision after looking at the evidence and considering the wishes of the victims’ families. The families, Warren said, are “okay” with the decision to seek the death penalty.
He said in this instance, they must leave mercy be left to a higher power and he must focus on getting justice for the victims and their families.
“The decision to seek death is not about what’s popular or politically convenient. It requires far more than that. My obligation is to thoroughly evaluate the evidence and determine whether there is a legal basis for the death penalty, and to consider the wishes of the victims’ families for how we best achieve justice for their loved ones. And that’s exactly what we did,” Warren said.
He also thanked the victim’s families, the community and his team of prosecutors and staff for their assistance in the investigation.
Warren said his team would be ready for trial in the legally required 175 days, but acknowledged it could take years.
But one family the prosecutor’s office has not heard from is Donaldson’s. His parents, Rosita Donaldson and Howell Donaldson Jr. have so far refused to speak with investigators about their son. They are expected to tell a judge why they refuse to comply with subpoenas to do so.
Warren said he believes the couple has valuable information and hopes they can come to a resolution during a hearing on Friday.