TAMPA, Fla. — A jury has recommended life in prison for Ronnie ONeal III, 32, for the deaths of Kenyatta Barron and Ron'Niveya ONeal. The verdict came Friday afternoon after just a few hours of deliberations.
In addition to the murders, Oneal was also found guilty 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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The jury recommendation of life in prison instead of death isn't exactly what the family of Kenyatta Barron was hoping for.
“He took a disabled little child and her mother in the most inhumane way possible. [He] slaughtered them," said Daisatta Barron, Kenyatta's sister. "If you can’t tell that’s worth a life then I kind of lost a little bit of faith in the justice system because if anything that’s worth a life.”
Kenyatta’s mother expressed sorrow over her grandson, the little boy the jury found Oneal guilty of trying to kill. She longs to be in his life and says that was taken from her.
She says Oneal put on a show inside the courtroom.
“I still got justice whether family know it or not, I got justice because at the end of the day it’s true, I go to grave and I’ll visit my two children at the grave but at the end of the day they resting at the bosom of God. But him, he’s gonna be so miserable behind those bars, til he's gonna wish he was dead," said Carrie Lloyd, Kenyatta's mother.
The state needed to prove that the deaths of Kenyatta Barron and Ron’Niveya were especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel. That they suffered tremendously before dying.
“She is disabled, she is vulnerable because of it, she can’t help herself at all, she can’t even talk. And this is her dad that’s murdering her," said Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon.
State prosecutors believe that goal was accomplished.
“The aggravating factors that have been proven to you as it applied to Mrs. Barron and her 9-year-old daughter’s murder are an avalanche of significance and power that overrides and blots out any suggest mitigation," said Harmon.
But the defense says numerous traumatic events in Oneal’s past had a huge impact on him. He was the victim of sexual abuse at the age of 5, he was shot and nearly died in a random drive-by shooting in 2017.
And while recovering from that, the state says he was traumatized even more when his mom told him she tried to abort him.
“She was trying to use that as an example of him having another near-death experience and that he survived," said Jennifer Spradley, an assistant public defender.
Spradley says his biological father passed down schizophrenia and delusional disorder and what he thinks happened that night is a product of his mental illness.
“An idle mind is a Devil’s workshop," Spradley said. "Ronnie feels like he’s under attack. He’s up all night, he’s paranoid, he’s hyper-vigilant, he believes he was targeted by the shooting.”
An alternate juror who was officially dismissed Friday told reporters off-camera she would have voted for death. She says the 911 call was the most damning piece of evidence and says it’s given her nightmares.
“They want to play that call for you, and show you those photos over and over and over and over and over, slow it down, make it loud, play it again, let’s stop it, let’s talk about it," Spradley said. "Because they want you to focus on vengeance."
Even though the jury recommended life in prison, nothing is official until the judge makes it official. That will happen July 23rd at 10 AM.
The second day of the sentencing phase of the Ronnie Oneal double murder trial started with the defense calling Oneal's mother and brother to the stand.
Both spoke about Oneal's childhood and talked about the sexual abuse they say he suffered when he 5-years-old.
Most of the day was spent questioning a psychologist about Oneal's mental state. His defense team is attempting to prove he suffers from delusions.
Dr. Scot Machlus, a clinical and forensic psychologist, told jurors Oneal's biological father, Alonso Fritz McNair, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and "persecutory delusions." He says people who suffer from those mental illnesses are paranoid and believe people or things are after them to hurt them in some way.
Dr. Machlus told jurors these types of disorders can be passed down to children.
"If you are the son or daughter of someone with delusional disorder, you are more likely to get this disorder later in life. These disorders usually show up when an individual is in their late teens or early 20s," he said.
He thinks that's what happened with Oneal after interviewing him, he says he showed signs of both mental illnesses and even believing the food in prison was poisoned.
“He talked about these energy balls and energy waves he would see going across the room," said Dr. Machlus. "That’s a visual hallucination. He had paranoid delusions that people in the jail were trying to kill him.”
He says mental illness can come out when you experience other trauma in your life. Aside from the sexual abuse, his family says happened to him, he was also the victim of a random drive-by shooting.
Closing arguments will begin Friday and then the jury will get their instructions and go into deliberation.
Opening statements from both the state and the defense began Wednesday morning. The state is seeking the death penalty.
The state called two witnesses, the medical examiner and a child development expert. The state was trying to convey to the jury that both Kenyatta Barron and her daughter Ron'Niveya suffered greatly before they were killed.
Oneal's defense team asked the medical examiner if she knew which injuries came first. They were essentially trying to convey to the jury that the two could have been knocked unconscious before certain injuries, implying they may not have suffered as much as the state said they did.
"Suffering, pain, and torment and cruelty. Unrelenting cruelty," said Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon. "The evidence in this penalty phase will show you beyond a reasonable doubt that Kenyatta Barron suffered those very strong emotions of fear and horror and terror on the night that these crimes occurred."
“Individually you all must decide what happens to Mr. Oneal. If one person votes for life in this case, the sentence is life without the possibility for parole," said Dana Herce Fulgueira, Assistant Public Defender.
“Kenyatta Barron and Ron'Niveya was the light of my life that was dimmed entirely too early. I miss them dearly and my life will forever be changed," said Carrie Lloyd, Kenyatta Barron’s mother and grandmother to Ron’Niveya.
Carrie Lloyd expressed her grief, heartbreak and sorrow to the jury. She told them she is hanging onto memories but feels a tremendous hole in her heart after what happened to them. Both of Kenyatta’s sisters say they feel the same.
“My other kids ask all the time why and I don’t have an answer. The stress seems never-ending," said Daisatta Barron, Kenyatta's sister.
Daisatta told the jury Kenyatta was a great mom who was extremely protective of her kids.
“Kenyatta’s world revolved around her children. There was not a place in her home you didn’t see their photos," she said. "Although Nivey could not verbally speak she would express herself through her attire and her bows. She literally had a bow a day.”
Kenyatta’s other sister Alisha read a letter written by her daughter, Kenyatta’s niece Shiona, about her relationship with Ron’Niveya.
“I miss holding her, tickling her, and her pretty looks. I miss seeing her," she said.
The state rested their case after those statements and then the defense began to call folks who know Oneal attempting to convey him as an uplifting, and spiritual person who followed the Nation of Islam and regularly participated in community events with a group called Build Your Community. That group's goal, they say, was to keep young kids from engaging in gun violence.
“They went out in the community, feeding the community," said Oneal's ex-girlfriend.
The Judge asked us to not show Oneal’s ex-girlfriend’s face as she testified because they have a young child together, she told the jury after Oneal was shot in a random drive-by shooting in 2017. A few months later, his demeanor and behavior began to change. She says after the murders in 2018 she has been sending pictures and letters to him in jail.
Defense: “Would you continue to support him if he was sentenced to life in prison while he was servicing his sentence.”
The defense also called Oneal's biological father to the stand to talk about his drug abuse, particularly cocaine.
The defense also brought Oneal's mother to the stand. The Judge asked the media to not show her face. She described Oneal as being a mama's boy and that she and Oneal were very close.
The defense asked her about sexual abuse Oneal endured when he was 5-years-old. She confirmed a police report was made but says there's a lot of angst in the family because no one was arrested. The defense says it was family members and friends of the family that abused Oneal. His defense told jurors he was raped.
His mother testified she did take him to counsel.
The state plans on talking about Oneal having a mental illness they say was passed down from his father Thursday when testimony continues.
Court officials confirm that Oneal III accepted attorney representation for his sentencing hearing despite representing himself throughout the trial.
On Monday afternoon, Ronnie Oneal III was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend and 9-year-old daughter in 2018.
Jurors found Oneal guilty on all seven counts, including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, arson and child abuse.
#BREAKING: A jury has convicted Ronnie Oneal of killing girlfriend and 9-year-old daughter with special needs. Guilty on all seven counts, including first-degree murder, arson, child abuse. #guilty #verdict @abcactionnews— Ryan Smith (@RyanReports) June 21, 2021
Oneal took the unusual step of representing himself, often shouting at attorneys and the jury during the high-stakes murder trial.
During his tense, hour-long closing argument, Oneal once again blamed government officials for allegedly distorting evidence, claiming they falsified a 911 call from his girlfriend.
That call for help proved critical in the state’s case against Oneal as Barron identified Oneal as her attacker.
After the verdict, Judge Michelle Sisco offered Oneal a compliment for his ultimately unsuccessful efforts.
“I think in another lifetime you would have been an excellent lawyer. You speak with great passion. I understood exactly the points you were making,” said the judge.
But she quickly issued him a warning, urging Oneal to allow an attorney to step in and represent him as the trial moves into the penalty phase.
“I want you to just think about it overnight, I don’t want you to make a decision right now. I want you to give it some serious, serious consideration," the judge said.
Oneal now faces the death penalty for his crimes. The penalty phase of the trial is expected to start Wednesday.
Without hesitation, Tom Dirks the lead detective in the 2018 double murder case doubled down on his decision to take Ronnie Oneal into custody.
Oneal: “Were you able to draw any conclusions on whether I committed any murder in this case.”
Dirks: “Yes that’s why I arrested you.”
Oneal: ”Can you say I didn’t kill Kenyatta Barron in self-defense?"
Dirks: ”I’m not going to say that, no. I arrested you for her murder."
Detective Dirks was the last witness called by the state. It was then Oneal’s chance to call witnesses to the stand — he had three and his defense only lasted 30 minutes.
We were told by the judge to not show the faces of two of them, a young neighbor who says he saw what happened outside that night through a bedroom window and the mother of another child Oneal fathered a few years ago.
Neighbor: “He stood over her, did this striking thing like three times and he shot her.”
Oneal: “You’re sure about that right?”
Oneal: “You’ve seen three strikes?”
When the mother took the stand, Oneal asked her to confirm she and Kenyatta Barren were fighting a few weeks prior to the murders.
“Yes, we were. We never got along. Like, at all," she testified.
His third witness was a Hillsborough County Sheriffs deputy who pulled 911 dispatch records but did not review them.
Throughout the entire trial, Oneal has focused heavily on cell phone records and seemed to be trying to convey that a 911 call he made was missing.
Oneal: “Do you see a call at 3:52?
Deputy: “No I don’t.”
Oneal: “I wonder why that is.”
Judge: “Again, you're just here to ask questions, not make comments. What’s your next question of the witness.
Oneal: “I have no more questions because I’m really done talking.”
That witness was excused, and when the Judge asked if he had any other witnesses to call he said:
Oneal: “Not at this time.
Judge: well now’s the time…
Oneal: “Well not really but. no, ma’am.”
In the end, Oneal could be seen smiling at friends who were in the audience watching.
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.