TAMPA A judge ordered parents of the man accused in the Seminole Heights murders Thursday to appear before her next month and explain why she shouldnt hold them in civil contempt for refusing to answer investigators questions.
During today's hearing, Judge Margaret Taylor agreed with the state that the goal is not to punish the Donaldsons, but rather to convince them to testify on their son's background, mental state, and gun possession.
The families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton earlier met with the state attorney to talk about whether the state should seek the death penalty; Naiboa's father said that's something they want. He says most people understand they have a duty to answer questions.
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.
Prosecutor Jay Pruner argued there is no privilege that allows the parents to avoid answering questions.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said his office is doing everything possible to put forth the strongest case possible and part of that is getting certain questions answered from the Donaldsons.
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Warren said the parents would have immunity - that nothing the Donaldson's would say could be used against them.
Ralph Fernandez, who is representing the Donaldsons, said the parents are devastated, adding that their refusal to answer questions was meant to avoid further emotional pain. "The Donaldsons have been devastated, not just for the personal tragedy but for everything that's happened".
Rosita Donaldson said she and her husband have a 28-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. The co-worker alerted a police officer that was in the McDonald's.
The Donaldsons will return to the court to appear before the judge at 10 a.m.
Investigators are still unsure of a motive behind the four killings and do not yet know of a connection between Howell Donaldson III and the neighborhood where the killings took place. "I still believe in an America that respects that great family value". "And then when they arrested my son, devastation, because I love my son and it was disbelief that this was happening to our family".