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Parents of Seminole Heights murder suspect refuse to talk to investigators; judge to govern

TAMPA – Investigators had questions for the parents of Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the suspect of four murders in Seminole Heights.

They wanted to ask Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson about their 24-year-old son's background, developmental history, gun ownership, and state of mind.

But both parents refused to respond on Tuesday, challenging a subpoena investigation, according to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. They revealed only the names, addresses and dates of birth of the family members before refusing to answer other questions.

"That's a rarity," state attorney Andrew Warren said at a news conference on Wednesday. "Because most people understand that they have a duty to answer questions, and when that duty is explained to them by a judge, they are willing to give us answers."

Warren's office asks the judge to consider whether or not the parents are to be held in contempt of court. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a. M. Before County Judge Margaret Taylor.

"Mr. Donaldson's refusal to testify … despite receiving a subpoena authorized by the court constitutes an indirect criminal offense," deputy prosecutor Jay Pruner wrote. in a motion presented on Wednesday that names the father.

A similar motion was filed against the mother, along with a transcript of her interview with Deputy State Attorney Scott Harmon.

From the beginning, Andrew Shafii, one of the two attorneys who accompanied Rosita Donaldson, told Harmon that neither parent would testify that day.

Harmon started asking questions to establish a record.

Rosita Donaldson said that she and her husband have two other children: a daughter of 28 and another son, 13. The children have several aunts, uncles and cousins. Howell had a good relationship with his two surviving grandparents, she said. The family had frequent meetings around the holidays.

"Thanksgiving everyone was in our house," he said.

Shafii interrupts. He told her that if she wanted to refuse to speak, she had to say it. Harmon asked him if he would continue.

"No," she said. "With all due respect, I'm not answering any more questions."

His son, Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, faces four counts of first-degree murder for the death of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton. The four were shot dead during October and November in southeast Seminole Heights.

"Not only are we trying to put together a case against the accused, but we are trying to ask ourselves why: a question that the victims" Families and the community deserve to have responded, "Warren said.

Young Donaldson He was arrested on November 28 after handing over a gun in a food bag to an employee of Ybor City McDonald's where he worked.The employee called the police and then the investigators determined that the gun was the same one that was used. in each of the four shots, according to an arrest report.

Donaldson, who was recognized by the police as having been his gun, has been jailed without bail since his arrest.

Ralph Fernández, the lawyer he represents The Donaldsons said the parents were devastated by the arrest of their son, and his refusal to answer questions, he said, was intended to prevent further emotional pain.

"I think it's important to safeguard these family values ​​truly significant in this time of tremendous family stress, "he said. "In their state of anguish, they are asked to testify against their son …" I hope to avoid further pain. "

But Warren said the couple was only being questioned as part of the investigation. [19659002]" I'm a father. Therefore, I recognize and sympathize with the unenviable situation in which they find themselves, "Warren said." But we have an ethical obligation to exhaust all avenues of investigation to make sure we understand what happened in this case. "[19659002] He was asked if parents could be fined or imprisoned for their refusal to comply.

"I do not think it will come to that," he said.

State judicial records point out that parents have received immunity "for the application of Florida law." The documents also state that the couple did not invoke any legal or constitutional privilege to justify their refusal to answer questions.

immunity to witnesses called to testify in the an investigation by a state prosecutor, said Stephen Romine, a Tampa area defense attorney who is not involved in the Donaldson case, and unlike some states, Florida does not have a law that establishes what is known as "child privilege parents," which would maintain communications between parents and confidential children.

According to the law, witnesses in an investigation of a state prosecutor are given what is known as "use immunity," which means they can not be prosecuted based on their statements.

"Tactically, what it does is give (to prosecutors) a free look at what is the truth," Romine said. The state can only accuse a witness if they develop independent evidence of the testimony, he said.

The events in Donaldson's case appear to be parallel to another high profile case in which Romine attended.

In 2004, Jennifer Porter was arrested when she left after accidentally hitting four children with her car, killing two. In that case, prosecutors tried to force their parents to talk about what they knew about the hit and run.

But they refused, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Fernandez was his lawyer at that time.

Prosecutors told the Gatekeepers that they could not invoke the Fifth Amendment because they had immunity. At a hearing, a judge warned the couple that they could be imprisoned if they did not cooperate. A few days later, they reluctantly agreed to testify.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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