Parents of accused Seminole Heights killer held in contempt of court, ordered to house arrest

Posted at 5:03 AM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-16 21:55:48-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The parents of the accused Seminole Heights killer are being held in contempt of court for continuing to refuse to answer prosecutor's questions even though they have been subpoenaed.

The couple will be placed on GPS monitoring, during their house arrest. They could be under house arrest for 5 months and 29 days or less than that, if they decided to talk. The only exceptions to their house arrest are leaving for medical and religious reasons, plus employment purposes. 

Ralph Fernandez, who spoke on behalf of both parents, did not anticipate Howell Donaldson III's parents changing their minds. Howell Donaldson Junior and his wife, Rosita Donaldson refused to answer questions regarding their son's case.

“From day one, they indicated they would not testify against their son and as you can see the risk was high," Fernandez said.

The judge reminded Donaldson's parents they could end the court order for indirect civil contempt at any time, if they agree to meet with prosecutors and provide truthful testimony. But, if they choose to remain silent, they must complete their house arrest. If they continue to be non-compliant to the court's order after that time, the state can proceed in any matter they feel appropriate, according to the judge. 

“From the beginning we wanted them to comply with questions that they are legally obligated to answer and we hope that the sanctions that the court imposed will bring us to that," State Attorney Andrew Warren for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit said.

Watch the ruling below:




Prosecutors told the Judge they want information from Donaldson's parents pertaining to the whereabouts of their son at the time of the murders, and information about his mental health history when stating their case about why they want the Donaldson's to speak.

“From the beginning we were just focused on getting information from the parents because the community and the victims' families deserve it," Warren said.

Warren said their intention was never to lock up the parents for not cooperating.

"It wasn’t like they were prepared to go to jail. They were almost going to jail and they didn’t speak a word and they trusted us with their future," Fernandez said. 

The couple's son, Howell Emanuel Donaldson III is accused of killing four people over a span of six weeks in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. He was booked into jail on November 29 and charged with four counts of First-Degree Murder in connection to the murders of Benjamin MitchellMonica HoffaAnthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.


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Timeline of events: What led to the arrest of Howell Donaldson III, suspected Seminole Heights Killer

Arrest documents reveal key evidence against suspected Seminole Heights killer

State will seek death penalty against Howell Donaldson III

Parents of accused Seminole Heights killer to go before a judge for refusing to answer questions

In January, State Prosecutors announced that they plan to seek the death penalty against Donaldson. The judge said he will check with attorneys next week to make sure the parents are complying with today's order.

Mary Stringini is a Digital Reporter for WFTS. Follow her on Twitter @MaryWFTS.