Accused murderer's parents face contempt charges

Andrew Warren

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.

The man accused of killing four people in a Tampa, Florida, neighborhood has been indicted on four counts of premeditated murder with a firearm, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said Thursday.

In a twist in the Seminole Heights serial killer case, the suspect's parents may be held in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions about 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.

Benjamin Mitchell, 22 was killed at approximately 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9. They have had trouble sleeping, have thought about leaving town, and received at least one death threat.

Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner in arguing before the judge Thursday, Dec. 7, said parents Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson responded to the state's subpoena for information but refused not to answer questions. We will not testify against their son.

His parents have refused to answer the prosecutor's questions regarding their son.

Taylor, citing case law from a Miami-area judge, ordered the parents to appear in court January 5, 2018, to show cause as to why they should not be held in civil contempt.

The Donaldsons' attorney, Ralph Fernandez, told the judge his clients are going through a lot emotionally. "They have an interest in protecting their child", he said.

"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.

Prior to Thursday's hearing, Fernandez told ABC News that the Donaldsons were "fully advised" on their actions and are "ready to take the effect".

"I don't think that there is a greater treasure than the family", he said.

Fernandez says it is unreasonable to expect parents to be able to testify against their son.

Donaldson, 24, was arrested November 28 after he handed a food bag, containing what police say is the gun used in all four Seminole Heights murders, to his boss at an Ybor City McDonald's, according to Tampa police. 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.

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

"Within days of this tragedy striking, you know, devastated as they are, exhausted", Fernandez said.

"We are taking every investigative avenue and using every investigative tool at our disposal to build as a strong a case as possible to hold the defendant accountable for his crimes", Warren said.

Attorneys for the family declined to comment on whether they had seen the surveillance video of the suspect that police released weeks ago.