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.
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.
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.
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."