Prosecutors to seek death penalty in Seminole Heights murders case

By Cait McVey, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 1:02 PM EST

State Attorney Andrew Warren says his office will seek the death penalty against Seminole Heights murders suspect Howell Donaldson III. 

"After reviewing the evidence, analyzing legal factors and meeting with families of the vicitims, this office will seek the sentence of death against Howell Donaldson III," Warren announced at a Tuesday morning news conference.

Warren said he and his team came to the most "serious and sobering decision after months of work and recent time for quiet reflection." 

Donaldson III, 24, is facing four counts of first-degree murder. 

Warren said his office has already began its trial preparation but added an actual trial may not be in the immediate future. 

"We'll be prepared to go to trial in 175 days - as required by law," Warren said. "But the reality is, a homicide case in Hillsborough County and across the state of Florida is likely to take a few years before it gets to trial."

The 24-year-old McDonald's worker was taken into custody Nov. 28 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 III was detained upon returning to the eatery.

Police said Donaldson III admitted to owning a gun of the same caliber that was loaded with the same kind of bullets used in all four murders. 

Investigators also found blood stains on some of the clothes in his car. They also said cell phone location records put him at or near the scene of at least three of the four murders. 

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 question surrounding the death peanlty came up almost immediately after he was taken into custody. 

Robert Hoffa, the uncle of one of the victims, has made up his mind regarding a potential death penalty sentence if Donaldson III is found guilty.

"Is Benjamin, Ronald, Monica or Anthony getting to enjoy Thanksgiving or Christmas?" asked Robert Hoffa. "Do they get to enjoy their families? That’s how I want to leave that. The ultimate punishment is [Donaldson III] shouldn’t be here, neither."