Attorney for accused Seminole Heights serial killer wants the death penalty thrown out.
Howell Donaldson III faces four trials for killings that terrorized the community in 2017.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The attorney for the man arrested and accused of four killings that terrorized the Seminole Heights community in 2017 is now looking to have the death penalty taken off the table.
A motion filed in Hillsborough County Court on Jan. 7 claims that if the death penalty is sought, Howell Donaldson III’s Due Process would be denied and violations of the state and federal Constitutions would occur.
So, what does that mean? Donaldson’s attorney says it all comes down to the indictment against him.
According to the motion filed, the defense finds that the state “failed” to “charge a capital crime” or to “allege the elements of a crime punishable by the death penalty” in the Grand Jury indictment.
The documents go on to say that when the Grand Jury returned an indictment in the case, “aggravating factors” were not presented for their consideration.
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“The Indictment fails to allege the commission of a capital crime because it fails to expressly allege that sufficient aggravating factors exist as required to impose the death penalty,” the motion reads.
While Donaldson tries to save his own life at 29, criminal defense attorney Denis deVlaming recently reviewed the motion and says it will likely fail.
“I think what the defense is trying to do admirably, but quite frankly, is to try to save his life. I don’t think they’re going to have success in winning the case. It’s not an obligation of the grand jury to determine whether or not the death penalty is going to be imposed. That is specifically and solely the obligation of the prosecutor,” deVlaming said.
“I think by not telling them, the aggravating factors, and so forth, in order for them to make that decision, is just not going to fly.”.
Donaldson will have a Zoom hearing related to the motion at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday.
The accused Tampa Bay area serial killer is said to have murdered Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton in October and November of 2017. All four shootings happened within blocks of each other.
The killings led to a massive manhunt that led to Donaldson’s capture at the McDonald’s where he worked.
A series of court motions since his arrest have delayed Donaldson’s trials. In July 2018, a judge found him competent to stand trial after a mental health evaluation. That trial was set to start in August 2020, but a judge instead granted a motion to try each murder case separately.
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Then, in 2021, a judge denied the state’s request to introduce similar evidence across the four crimes into each separate trial.
Prosecutors argued that evidence shows a “unique pattern of criminal activity” that would be relevant to the other cases, while the defense said each case was a “similar but separate episode that must be tried separately,” according to court documents.
“The Court does not find the details surrounding the four murders to be sufficiently similar to warrant admission in each individual trial,” the judge wrote.
Instead, jurors assigned to each of Donaldson’s four separate trials will only focus on the one specific murder case in front of them.
His trial dates have not been set.