SEMINOLE HEIGHTS, Fla. -- Precisely 56 days after Tampa police arrested their suspect in the Seminole Heights murders, Hillsborough County's State Attorney Andrew Warren made it official.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Howell Donaldson III.
Andrew Warren said it was a sobering decision to make, but after reviewing the evidence and consulting with victims’ families, the law, he said, was clear.
“This case, in which the defendant murdered four innocent victims, and a cold calculated and premeditated manner, qualifies,” said Warren.
Warren invoked the names of all four Seminole Heights victims - Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.
Some of the victims’ relatives told Warren while they’d prefer his office seek a life sentence and leave Donaldson’s ultimate fate to God.
Warren agreed an execution won’t bring their loved ones back, “But some crimes are so unconscionable, so hard to fathom, that we must leave mercy to a higher power,” said Warren, “And instead, focus on achieving justice for the victims and their families.”
Warren described the murders as unconscionable. Cold. Calculated.
“There is no evidence of mental illness or any other mitigating factor that gives us pause about the decision to go forward,” he added.
Attorneys for Donaldson’s parents say it’s clearly not what they had hoped to hear.
“Unfortunately, we are starting off at this position,” said A.J. Alvarez, who represents Donaldson’s father. “But, it’s just very upsetting to the family to know that this is certainly on the table at this point.”
Warren said his office is still trying to convince Donaldson’s mother and father to cooperate with investigators.
So far both parents are scheduled to appear in court later this week on the issue but have refused to do so citing a parental privilege for which there is little if any precedent. Both sides, however, say they remain optimistic about coming to an agreement.
“We believe that Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson have valuable information that can shed light on the defendant’s actions and motives. And as much as I empathize with their terrible situation, they have a legal duty to provide that information,” said Warren. “The community deserves that information, and frankly, we owe it to the victims’ families to seek it.”
Warren says his office will be ready to head to court, prepared to prosecute Howell Donaldson III’s capital case in six months. But Warren also concedes that many death penalty cases take years.
The State Attorney says he also spoke with Governor Rick Scott shortly before announcing the death penalty decision. The governor, said Warren, wished him well prosecuting the case and offered his support to do whatever he could for the victims and their families.
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