TAMPA, Fla. — The double-murder trial of a Riverview man accused of killing his girlfriend and 9-year-old daughter in 2018 began Monday.
Ronnie Oneal III, 32, is accused of killing Kenyatta Barron and Ron'Niveya Oneal. He's also accused of trying to kill his son, who was eight years old at the time.
Below is a daily breakdown from ABC Action News reporter Heather Leigh of what has been happening in the courtroom.
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With a deep breath and a brief pause, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy who adopted Ronnie Oneal III's son tearfully described to jurors how his relationship with the little boy began in March 30, 2018.
"The evening of the 30th, I went back with my wife and watched a movie," he said.
That was after he spent the entire day with the little boy. He heard he was a big football fan and was able to get him some Bucs swag.
The boy's Guardian Ad Litem, a person who was assigned to speak up for the little boy's best interest, asked him if he knew someone who would be willing to foster him and help take him to his medical appointments.
"I told him my wife and I would be happy to take him," he said. That was the moment he decided to foster the boy.
A year and a half later they made a choice.
"Did you and your wife adopt [him] as your own son?" the state asked.
"We did on November 25, 2019," the deputy said.
The Corporal, who was a detective at the time of the double murders did show up to the scene but testified he had never met the little boy that night. He was only tasked with securing a search warrant and transporting an inmate uniform to a fellow detective.
State: "At that point, was your part in this investigation of this case over?"
Deputy: "Yes sir."
In cross-examination, Oneal made just one statement.
"Thank you sir for all that you’ve done, from the bottom of my heart to the top of my head. No further questions," Oneal said.
Earlier in the day, jurors heard testimony from Billy Smith, Ronnie Oneal's stepdad who talked about a frantic late-night call.
"He told me, 'Keke is trying to kill me, Keke is trying to kill me, they’re trying to kill me,'" said Smith.
He told jurors the call woke him up and didn't last long.
Smith: “There was so much noise behind the background of the phone and the next thing I know the phone went dead.”
State: "Did you try and call him back?"
Smith: “Yes, I did”
State: “Several times?”
Smith: Several times.”
State: “Did anyone answer the phone?”
Smith and his wife rushed to the home to find a crime scene and then rushed to Tampa General Hospital where Oneal's son was being treated for 2nd and 3rd-degree burns and stab wounds.
"He was in critical condition, he was on a ventilator and had a tube in his trachea in order to breath, he had multiple tubes in his neck and chest," said Carol Marie Lilly, a pediatrician at USF.
A fire investigator also told jurors he smelled gasoline while examining the little boys' clothes as well as Oneal's daughter's clothes. The Judge told Oneal he needs to prepare to call his witnesses starting tomorrow.
A rare and intense situation played out in court as Ronnie Oneal III questioned his son.
State attorney Ron Gale wasted little time getting into details toward the young boy about what happened to his mother and sister in 2018. He was just 8-years-old at the time.
State: “Do you remember the night when something bad happened to your mother and your sister?”
Little boy: “Yes. I was sitting in my room and I saw my mom and my dad arguing.”
He told the state that he went to the back bedroom and saw his dad holding a shotgun. Shortly after that, he saw his mom run into his sister's closet and hide. He was in the living room when he recalls Oneal telling him to come to the bedroom and help him kill his mother.
“I went into the room and he handed me the shotgun and helped me shoot it,” the little boy testified.
But he said he couldn't remember if the gun went off while he held it. He told the state he saw his dad kill his sister and then he said Oneal III came after him.
“I was laying on my stomach, and he had his foot on top of me, he was holding me down,” he said.
He said his dad attempted to light him on fire but couldn't remember much more after that besides walking outside.
“I just remember going to someone and saying that my dad killed my mom and then I got a mask put on me and then I don’t remember anything from there,” said the boy, who is now 11.
Oneal III was eventually able to cross-examine his son.
“It’s good to see you man,” Oneal said to him.
On several occasions, Oneal questioned his son on details which he seemed to use as a way to prove it wasn’t matching up with what the little boy said previously to detectives and attorneys in 2018.
Oneal: “Did you see me beat your mom?”
Little boy: “No.”
Oneal: “Did you see me shoot your mom?”
Little boy: “No.”
Oneal: “You sure?”
Little boy: “Yes.”
Oneal: “She asked you who was getting the shooting and you said your mom and she said okay did you see it? And you said, I heard and saw it. Do you remember saying that to her?”
Little boy: “No.”
Judge Michelle Sisco noted on the record, “Mr. Oneal appeared to be in command of the facts and knew the points that he was trying to get across, and I feel that he did so competently.”
State assistant attorneys pulled out a shotgun broken in half they said is what Ronnie Oneal III used to brutally kill Kenyatta Barron.
“Does it appear the barrel of this portion is bent?” asked Assistant State Attorney Ron Gale.
The state said he used it to beat Barron to death. Prosecutors told the judge they didn't feel comfortable with Oneal handling any of the weapons in cross-examination.
Oneal: “I’m not a convict, I’m innocent until proven guilty.”
Judge Sisco: “I know and I assume that as well.”
Oneal: “But you all treat me like you don’t know that.”
The judge ended up allowing his stand-by counsel to hold up the weapons.
Earlier in the day, several first responders took the stand. Donald Foster, a firefighter that helped battle the flames inside Barron’s home said while he was inside, he found himself slipping on blood.
“I kinda felt around to see if I could locate a patient there, there was nothing," he said. "There were knives strewn all over the floor, it looked like a knife drawer and poured it out on the floor.”
Foster was looking for Oneal’s young daughter, who the state said he killed with a hatchet. He told jurors he crawled to the back of the home and found the young girl.
Foster said his goal was to get her out and after he laid her in the front yard, he said she was unrecognizable.
Prosecution: “It was obvious that individual was deceased at this point?
Foster: "Yes sir."
Prosecution: "What did you do then?"
Foster: "Hugged my other firefighter and cry, to be honest with you.”
The state also showed a cell phone video a neighbor took when Oneal and his son walked out of the house. Oneal has questioned the video’s authenticity numerous times, as well as the 911 calls.
Oneal: “Are you sure that’s how the scene went down outside my house?"
Prosecution: "Objection. Argumentative."
Oneal: "I just asked a plain question."
Judge Sisco: "Mr. Oneal let me just rule on the objection. You can answer the question."
Lt. Howard Wooden: "That’s how it went down."
Oneal: "I just wanted to hear it from your mouth.”
A Lieutenant with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue told jurors what she heard Oneal’s son say when he was in the ambulance.
“Two statements stuck in my mind, I believe he said, 'my dad killed my mom, or my dad shot my mom.' It’s one of the two statements he made," said Lt. Veronica Vitte.
That boy is expected to testify Wednesday.
The state began its opening statement Monday by playing the 911 call Kenyatta Barron made right before midnight on March 18, 2018, to jurors.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry Ronnie," Kenyatta Barron could be heard saying to dispatch.
The call went on for roughly four minutes and Kenyatta could be heard screaming and pleading for help as she told the dispatcher she had been shot. The state said Oneal could be heard saying "she killed me" and "Allah Akbar."
The state said Oneal hunted Barron down as she hid from him in a bedroom closet. They eventually ended up at their neighbor's front door where Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon said Oneal beat her to death with a shotgun.
"That’s the barrel, the tip of the barrel with a dent in it," he said. "On her head, on this young woman’s face."
Harmon said he then killed his daughter who had autism and couldn't speak.
"She couldn’t beg for her life like Kenyatta Barron had been able to do," Harmon said. "The evidence would show that Ron'Niveya was unable to say, 'daddy stop please, daddy, please daddy stop, stop.'"
The state said Oneal then set out to kill his son and stabbed him multiple times before setting the house on fire. When deputies arrived, the state said Oneal’s son came out of the garage holding himself before he collapsed in the front yard.
“The evidence is going to show that I loved my children," screamed Oneal to jurors during his opening statement. "The evidence is going to prove to you this whole entire case has been tampered with and fabricated.”
Ronnie Oneal III has been defending himself. He seemed extremely agitated, yelling at the jury throughout his nearly 30-minute long opening statement.
“She threatened to kill me with a knife just a few weeks before the incident and she was angry about her relationship with my other child's mom," he said.
Oneal said his son is unreliable when it comes to the "actual facts" of the case because he suffers from PTSD and that he’s been coached on his responses.
That boy survived and is expected to testify against his father at some point during this case.
Jury selection took place with Judge Michelle Sisco presiding. Some potential jurors told the judge they had scheduling conflicts, others admitted they didn't think they could be fully impartial and some had strong opinions on the death penalty.
"I just believe that anyone who takes a life deserves to have theirs taken," said juror 24.
"Part of it is my Catholicism, that every human has a right to live and that their lives should not be ended any other way than naturally," Juror 17 said.
The state said it can be challenging prosecuting a case where the defendant is representing themselves because they aren't skilled in rules of evidence and procedure.
And there were plenty of times during jury selection where Oneal seemed confused by the process, asking if jury selection was the official "start" of his trial. He also asked if the judge could strike Juror 24 because of his stance on the death penalty but seemed to get what the juror said incorrectly when talking to the judge.
"Because he does not agree with the death penalty. Huh? His... basically his views on the death penalty," Oneal said.
Oneal is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder in the first degree, one count of arson, and one count of resisting arrest without violence.