Willing to get jail time, parents of Seminole Heights suspect face judge today

Howell Donaldson III's parents say they would rather go to jail than testify against him. A judge will consider their fate.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Exactly one week after Howell "Trai" Donaldson III's arrest, his parents are now in the hot seat.

Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson, parents of the Seminole Heights murder suspect, are not budging in their stance. They are refusing to testify against their son in a hearing Thursday.

Their lawyer, Ralph Fernandez, says they shouldn’t be forced to do so.

“If you are a parent asked to testify against your child, what would you do? I still believe in an America that respects that great family value,” Fernandez said.

Wednesday, the families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton met with the state attorney to talk about whether the state should seek the death penalty.

Anthony Naiboa’s dad, Casimar, told 10News they want the death penalty. In the meeting with the state attorney he said prosecutors assured the victim’s families they’d seek the toughest penalty possible. 

When it comes to Donaldson’s parents refusing to testify against their son, Naiboa says they should be held accountable.

In a press conference Wednesday, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said it’s reasonable and necessary for prosecutors to question the Donaldsons.

“I can sympathize with the parents of a defendant who has been arrested for four murders, but the parents do have immunity just as anyone would who is given an investigative subpoena. So, anything they say can’t be used against them," Warren said.

At the 10 a.m. hearing Thursday, prosecutors are expected to ask the Donaldsons personal and detailed questions about their son’s mental health, along with other questions varying from whether they knew if he owned a gun to basics about his car, clothing and developmental history.

In a 10News interview last week, the Donaldsons would only speak of their love for their son.

Florida law protects spouses from having to testify against one another, but parents don't have that same immunity in cases involving their children.

“Most people understand they have the duty to answer questions and when that duty is explained to them by a judge, they’re willing to provide answers to us,” Warren said.

As far as the Donaldsons getting out of answering questions without consequence, Tampa defense attorney Anthony Rickman says since they’re protected by immunity from the state, that may not be possible.  

“If they rely on parent-child privilege, there is none. That religious privilege or saying it’s against my religion is not a recognized privilege as it stands today.

Refusing to testify could put the Donaldsons in contempt of court, which means they could be jailed for up to five months and 29 days.

The state attorney says he doesn’t think it will get to that point.

Fernandez says the judge has other options, although he wouldn't elaborate what they were.

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