Prosecutors to seek death penalty against suspected Tampa serial killer

PHOTO: Howell Emanuel Donaldson III is pictured in an arrest photo distributed by the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.PlayTampa Police Department via AP
WATCH Prosecutors to seek death penalty against suspected Tampa serial killer

Florida prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a suspected serial killer in Tampa who is accused of slaying four people between Oct. 9 and Nov. 14, causing widespread fear in the Seminole Heights neighborhood.

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The death penalty is for the "worst of the worst," Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said at a news conference this morning.

"This case, in which the defendant murdered four innocent victims in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner, qualifies [for the death penalty]," Warren said.

PHOTO: Balloons and candles seen along 15th Street on Oct. 23, 2017 where Anthony Naiboa, 20, was found dead on Oct. 19 in Southeast Seminole Heights in Tampa, Fla.Will Vragovic/The Tampa Bay Times via AP
Balloons and candles seen along 15th Street on Oct. 23, 2017 where Anthony Naiboa, 20, was found dead on Oct. 19 in Southeast Seminole Heights in Tampa, Fla.

The suspect, Howell Donaldson III, was arrested in late November after a nearly two-month search. Donaldson was found after a McDonald's manager alerted police that the suspect had handed over a McDonald's bag containing a gun, which authorities have said is linked to all four killings.

Donaldson is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty. His attorney declined to comment today on Warren's announcement.

PHOTO: Law enforcement agents investigate a fatal shooting in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 14, 2017.Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP
Law enforcement agents investigate a fatal shooting in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 14, 2017.

Warren said some of the victims' families preferred seeking the death penalty while others preferred life in prison, but all were OK with prosecutors’ proceeding with the death penalty.

There is no evidence of mental illness or any other factor "giving us pause" in the decision to move forward, Warren said.

PHOTO: An FBI unit dressed in military uniforms joins the investigation on a fatal shooting in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 14, 2017.Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP
An FBI unit dressed in military uniforms joins the investigation on a fatal shooting in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 14, 2017.

While they cannot bring back the victims, Warren said, prosecutors "can seek justice for their deaths, and we will."

Warren said he is "heartbroken" for the suspect's parents.

A.J. Alvarez, an attorney for the suspect's father, Howell Donaldson Jr., said his client "was deeply saddened by the decision."

"It was obvious to him that that was a difficult decision by Mr. Warren. He is thankful for all of the thought and consideration which he put into it," Alvarez told reporters today. "He remains hopeful that at some point during the course of the litigation process, that he may reconsider that position."

Howell Donaldson Jr. is also "optimistic" that the defense will be successful in defending his son, Alvarez said, adding, "he maintains his son is innocent until proven guilty."

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