Seminole Heights murders suspect pleads not guilty

By Jason Lanning , Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 11:02 AM EST

The suspect in the four recent Seminole Heights murders has pleaded not guilty. 

Howell Donaldson III did not appear in court Tuesday. 

Donaldson waived his right to appear last week for this arraignment but his attorney entered the written plea of not guilty to four counts of premeditated murder.  

The 24-year-old McDonald's worker was taken into custody at the Ybor City restaurant where he worked after he gave a coworker a bag with a gun in it and said he had to leave town. The coworker contacted a police officer, and Donaldson was detained upon returning to the eatery. 

Donaldson is facing four counts of first-degree murder. 

Residents and police had been on edge since Oct. 9, when 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was shot to death. Two days later, 32-year-old Monica Hoffa was slain. And on Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was killed after taking the wrong bus home from his new job. On Nov. 14, 60-year-old Ronald Felton was killed.

The case against Donaldson is all circumstantial at this point. He was indicted on all four murders last week based on: 

  • Owning a gun of the same caliber loaded with the same kind of bullets used in all four murders. 
  • Having clothes with blood stains on them in his car. 
  • And having location records on his cell phone putting him at or near the scene of at least three of the four murders. 
  • Tampa police chief: "We got the killer"

It could take months for the tests to be done on the gun and clothes before any of that can be tied directly to the murders. 

And the issue of Donaldson III's parents and possible contempt charges remains. Howell Donaldson Jr. and his wife Rosita have to return to court on Jan. 5 to either answer questions pertaining to their son or explain why they can't and face possible jail time. 

So far, Donaldson III's attorneys have given no indication any kind of deal is in the works that may take pressure off his parents.