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Death Penalty To Be Sought For Seminole Heights Murder Suspect

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III

State Attorney Andrew Warren has decided he will seek the death penalty for the man accused of murdering four people in Seminole Heights.

"After reviewing the evidence, analyzing the legal factors, speaking with the victim's families, and taking the time for the quiet reflection that this tremendous decision demands," Warren said Tuesday morning, "I've determined that for the murders of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton, this office will seek the sentence of death against Howell Donaldson III."

Warren, the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit,  said he made the decision after consulting family members of the victims.

"The law is clear," he said. "The death penalty is reserved for the most aggravated and least mitigated capital offenses. This case, in which the defendant murdered four innocent victims in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner, qualifies."

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III was arrested Nov. 28 after police said he handed a bag containing a handgun to a co-worker at a McDonald’s restaurant in Ybor City, near the Tampa neighborhood where the four victims had apparently been randomly shot in October and November.

Warren said the victims were killed in a “cold and calculating manner.” He thanked the victims’ families for consulting with his office as the decision on the death penalty was made. He said some family members favored the death penalty, while others preferred a life sentence. But he said all were OK with his choice to pursue capital punishment.

Warren said his decision did not come easy -- he has taken stands against the death penalty being used in other cases in the past.

"My obligation is to thoroughly evaluate the evidence. To determine whether there's a legal basis for the death penalty. And to consider the wishes of the victim's families to best achieve justice for their loved ones," he said. "And that's exactly what we did."

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