Grand jury indicts Seminole Heights suspect for first-degree murder


The indictment was announced hours after a state court judge ordered the parents of suspect Howell "Trai" Donaldson III to appear in court on January 5 to "show cause" on why they shouldn't be held in civil contempt for refusing to answer investigators' questions about the case.

The killings shocked the community, with police swarming the area amid fears that a serial killer was on the loose.

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 knew when they went in that they were not going to answer questions that would lead to the execution of their son", the attorney told Judge Taylor.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, in court motions, accused the parents of indirect criminal contempt for refusing to answer questions after being served with a subpoena. "Because most people understand that they have a duty to answer questions". Investigators tried to question the parents about their son's background and state of mind. 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. They have not been able to sleep or "think cogently and clearly".

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But Warren said the couple was only being questioned as part of the investigation. They are considering moving and fear for the safety of a younger child.

Ralph Fernandez, an attorney for the parents, said afterward that he hoped something could be worked out before then.

In an earlier interview with 10News, he said: "If you are a parent asked to testify against your child, what would you do?" A pretrial detention hearing scheduled for Tuesday was canceled because the case has not yet been assigned to a division.

"I think its important to safeguard these truly significant family values in this time of tremendous family stress", he said.

Howell Donaldson III was arrested November 28 after his manager at a McDonald's restaurant in Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood alerted police to a McDonald's food bag containing a handgun. He was detained after a co-worker told police that Donaldson handed her a bag with a gun inside and told her to watch it for him.

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Warren did not say whether he would pursue the death penalty for Donaldson, if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

Howell Donaldson Jr. and Rosita Donaldson were subpoenaed to speak with investigators Monday.

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

"Within days of this tragedy striking, you know, devastated as they are, exhausted", Fernandez said. Police do not believe there are any other suspects in the case. Instead, the parents spoke emotionally about their family and the families of the victims.

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