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Accused murderer's parents face contempt charges

08 December 2017, 07:23 | Taylor George

Parents of accused Seminole Heights killer to face judge over refusal of testimony

Accused murderer's parents face contempt charges

Circuit Judge Margaret Taylor set a new court date of January 5, when the Donaldsons will have to explain their refusal to answer questions.

Howell Donaldson, III is accused of murdering Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton using the same weapon.

Donaldson, 24, was arrested November 28 after he handed a food bag, containing what police say is the gun used in all four Seminole Heights murders, to his boss at an Ybor City McDonald's, according to Tampa police.

"I prayed for those families when it first started", Rosita Donaldson said, holding back tears.

"The indictment means the grand jury has found that probable cause exists that the defendant committed each of these four murders", he told reporters.

The killings shocked the community, with police swarming the area amid fears that a serial killer was on the loose.

Prior to Thursday's hearing, Fernandez told ABC News that the Donaldsons were "fully advised" on their actions and are "ready to take the outcome".

If they continue to refuse to cooperate, Howell, Jr. and Rosita Donaldson could end up in jail on contempt of court charges. Investigators tried to question the parents about their son's background and state of mind. He says most people understand they have a duty to answer questions.

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During a news conference Wednesday, State Attorney Andrew Warren said it's both reasonable and necessary for prosecutors to question the Donaldsons.

The family's attorney, Ralph Fernandez, told the judge the parents are devastated, haven't slept and don't want to answer questions from prosecutors who are seeking "to make a decision about the life or death of their son".

He said the couple are like hostages in their own home after receiving death threats. "They have an interest in protecting their child", he said. The parents of Donaldson will go before a judge Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, after refusing to answer questions about their son.

As part of the ongoing investigation, investigators have been following thousands of tips and leads that came in, interviewing family members of the victims and talking to Donaldson III's family. A pretrial detention hearing scheduled for Tuesday was canceled because the case has not yet been assigned to a division. He was taken into custody at the McDonald's in Ybor City, where he worked, after handing his gun to a co-worker in a food bag.

Police say the evidence against Donaldson is compelling.

The younger Donaldson faces four counts of first-degree murder in the apparently random shooting spree. Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was killed October 9, and the body of 32-year-old Monica Hoffa was found October 13, half a mile from where Mitchell was killed. Instead, the parents spoke emotionally about their family and the families of the victims.

"We believe in him, and we're here for him", she added.

Attorneys for the family declined to comment on whether they had seen the surveillance video of the suspect that police released weeks ago.



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