TAMPA, Fla — Accused Seminole Heights killer Howell Donaldson will still face the death penalty if convicted of killing four people in 2017. Those few months nearly five years ago are hard to forget as the community waited for Tampa police to make an arrest.
Donaldson appeared in court Thursday with his defense team to go over 18 motions filed. Several of those motions had hoped to prove the death penalty is unconstitutional and should be taken off the table. When Donaldson went to trial Judge Samantha Ward pretty quickly disagreed, denying several of the motions, which means Donaldson will still face death if convicted.
His team also attempted to keep two witnesses from testifying during the trial, Casmair Naiboa and Maria Rodriguez, the father and stepmother of the third victim, Anthony Naiboa, because the two have refused to give depositions in writing.
“'They were canceled at the request of the state of Florida because they felt they may be evading service,' and I have that in quotes cause it’s straight from the e-mail, and they needed more time to serve them,” said Carolyn Schlemmer, Donaldson’s Defense attorney. “Why is this all important? Because this has been a continuous issue with these two witnesses.”
But the state said it’s been nearly two years since they have been asked to give depositions and feelings may have changed. Rodriguez was in court Thursday after being subpoenaed but Naiboa was not due to illness.
“While they are witnesses they are also family members of a deceased victim, in this case, so to relive this and to discuss it is very painful for both of them and I think that was the struggle they were experiencing when they were first called in to do this,” said Assistant State Attorney John Terry.
It did appear Rodriguez is willing to do a deposition but in tears, she told the state after the court was adjourned that Naiboa would not.
A date for new depositions has been set for April 22 at 1:30 p.m. If they don’t show up, they will be in violation of the judge's order.