TAMPA, Fla. -- Despite wishes to only speak of love for their son, the parents of accused Seminole Heights killer Howell Donaldson III are ordered to explain why they shouldn't be held in civil contempt.

Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner in arguing before the judge Thursday, Dec. 7, said parents Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson responded to the state's subpoena for information but refused not to answer questions.

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

Those questions relate to Donaldson III's mental health, whether his parents knew he owned a gun and about their son's history, among others. Answers to those questions potentially could be used to determine whether Donaldson III murdered four people this fall in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood.

"We are seeking testimony that would only be in Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson's access and knowledge," said Pruner, when asked by Judge Margaret Taylor what the state's goal is with asking questions.

The families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton earlier met with the state attorney to talk about whether the state should seek the death penalty; Naiboa's father said that's something they want.

The parents' attorney, Ralph Fernandez, argued Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson won't be put in a position to help determine life or death for their son if the death penalty is sought.

In an earlier interview with 10News, he said: "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."

Watch: Seminole Heights suspect's parents keeping silent

Taylor, citing case law from a Miami-area judge, ordered the parents to appear in court Jan. 5, 2018, to show cause as to why they should not be held in civil contempt. They can answer prosecutors' questions before then if wanted.

Refusing to testify could put the Donaldsons in jail for several months.

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