Judge warns accused serial killer's parents: Cooperate or explain why not


"It's that simple", he told reporters at a press conference held November 29, the day after Donaldson's arrest.

The man accused of killing four people in a Tampa, Florida, neighborhood has been indicted on four counts of premeditated murder with a firearm, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said Thursday.

But Warren said the couple was only being questioned as part of the investigation. 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. He said they've had trouble sleeping, they've thought of leaving the state, and they've even received death threats since their son's arrest.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, faces four counts of first-degree murder in deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton. We will not testify against their son.

Judge Taylor decided that if the Donaldsons refuse to answer questions under oath, they could face civil contempt of court, rather than criminal.

In a Hillsborough County courtroom Thursday morning, Judge Margaret Taylor ordered Howell Donaldson Jr. and his wife, Rosita Donaldson, to return to court next month to show cause for why they should not be held in civil contempt of court. They have not been able to sleep or "think cogently and clearly". "They have an interest in protecting their child", he said. Fernandez said one caller to his office left a message threatening to hang both the lawyer and the suspect from a tree outside his window. They have been given until January 5 to cooperate, or else they risk being fined or contempt of court charges.

Parents of Seminole Heights murder suspect refuse to talk to investigators, judge to rule

The Donaldson's attorney, Ralph E. Fernandez, hasn't offered a legal argument for why they aren't cooperating with the investigation, only saying it is too soon for them to be forced to answer questions.

After the hearing, Fernandez told reporters that the contempt case amounted to putting "family values on trial".

Warren said he understands Donaldson's parents might be willing to go to jail to avoid providing testimony, but "I don't think it's going to come to that and we're not at that point yet".

In an earlier interview with 10News, he said: "If you are a parent asked to testify against your child, what would you do?" He was taken into custody last week at the McDonald's in Ybor City, where he works, after handing a gun to a co-worker and asking her to watch it. Cellphone location data also connected him to areas near the killings when they occurred, the affidavit stated.

Warren previously declared he could seek the death penalty against Howell "Trai" Donaldson III, who is suspected of shooting four people over 51 days; he repeated that Wednesday while speaking to the media. Donaldson waived a formal hearing on his pretrial detention, so he will be held without bond for the charges, according to a court order released Monday.

"It is a carrot being held out to see if we can reach some kind of agreement", he said.

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