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Judge warns accused serial killer's parents: Cooperate or explain why not
08 December 2017, 09:52 | Erica Roy
Seminole Heights quadruple murder suspect Howell Donaldson was supposed to appear in court Tuesday
"This is a rarity", State Attorney Andrew Warren said while addressing the issue on Wednesday.
"The state's position is there is no privilege derived from either Constitution or statute which allows them to avoid answering questions and that their willful failure to answer questions is a contemptuous acts of the authority of this court", prosecutor Jay Pruner told the court Thursday. The couple appeared at the state attorney's office Tuesday but refused to answer any questions related to the investigation of their son's alleged involvement in the killings, according to court documents. "That's the goal of this motion ultimately; that's our intent and our hope they would comply and answer our questions".
In motions filed Wednesday, the state attorney's office said the parents' refusal to testify despite having received a court-authorized subpoena constitutes indirect criminal contempt.
The court hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 5 at 10 a.m.
The Donaldsons' attorney, Ralph Fernandez, told the judge his clients are going through a lot emotionally. Their refusal to answer questions was simply meant to avoid further emotional pain.
"I don't think that there is a greater treasure than the family", he said. "They are being asked to render testimony against their son".
As part of the ongoing investigation, investigators have been following thousands of tips and leads that came in, interviewing family members of the victims and talking to Donaldson III's family.
"Im a father. So I recognize and sympathize with the unenviable situation that theyre in", Warren said.
"We're not only trying to build a case against the defendant, we're trying to ask the broader question of why - a question that the victims' families and the community deserves to have answered", Warren, the state attorney, said Wednesday.
"I understand it's the parents", Hayslett said.
Donaldson III, 24, was arrested last week and accused of the killings, seemingly at random, in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa in October and November. Anthony Naiboa, Monica Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Ronald Felton were all shot and killed in separate incidents while walking alone at night or in the early morning in the neighborhood.
Donaldson was taken into custody last week, 51 days after the first killing, when a co-worker at McDonald's tipped off police about his handgun. Donaldson will be arraigned Tuesday. Investigators later determined the gun was the same one used in each of the four shootings, an arrest report stated.
Refusing to testify could put the Donaldsons in jail for several months.
"It's implicit. that they want something from them that will flawless the case so that, perhaps, their son is executed and it's one of these concepts that is very hard for any parent", Fernandez said of the state.
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