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Tampa's Seminole Heights killer pleads guilty to four counts of murder

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Howell Donaldson III

The man who terrorized Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood after a string of slayings in 2017 will spend the rest of his life in jail.

Howell Donaldson III was supposed to go to a jury trial in August. But he instead pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty. He will be sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.

The shootings baffled police for two months during the fall of 2017. Benjamin Edward Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa, and Ronald Felton were shot to death in October and November that year, seemingly at random.

Tampa police received more than 5,000 tips about the shootings, but they were unable to track down the killer until he left a handgun matching the shootings in a paper bag at a McDonald's restaurant, telling a worker there to hold it while he ran some errands. A police officer who was eating a meal there arrested Donaldson when he returned. The plea deal was reached after the families of the victims came out in support of it.

“My daughter Monica was like a ray of sunshine with a playful spirit that is deeply missed by all who knew and loved her," said Monica Hoffa’s father, Kenny Hoffa, in a news release from the Hillsborough State Attorney's office. "While nothing will bring our beloved child back, it is a small comfort to know this coward will never hurt another innocent person again. I want to thank Tampa Police and the Seminole Heights community for your unwavering support during this nightmare. My faith in God will pull my family through this latest chapter in our story. We will continually reflect on Monica’s incredible zest for life as her memory lives on through the rest of us.”

Said State Attorney Susan Lopez: “There is no question this is and always will be a death penalty case. This coward committed unspeakable acts and wreaked havoc on our community for weeks on end. He will now be locked in a prison cell for the rest of his life where he will make no more headlines.

"We do this with the blessing of the victims’ family members who can now move forward without a lengthy trial or appeals process. We honor Ben, Monica, Anthony, and Ronald’s memories as we close this painful chapter for their families and our community,” she said.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.