TAMPA — Prosecutors will likely know before the end of January whether they will seek the death penalty for the man accused in the four Seminole Heights murders.
A judge set the next court appearance for Howell Emanuel Donaldson III for Jan. 25 and asked prosecutors Tuesday morning if they would know their intentions regarding capital punishment by then.
"Most likely," said Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon.
Donaldson, 24, was not present for his arraignment on four first-degree murder charges. His attorneys waived his appearance and entered four pleas of not guilty.
But seated in a packed courtroom gallery were families of two people Donaldson is accused of killing.
"If he did it, he’s got to pay for it," said Gloria Felton, sister-in-law to Ronald Felton. She said she wasn’t sure about the death penalty.
"I think there’s consequences for actions and that’s all I’m going to say," said Yury Gutierrez, cousin to Monica Hoffa.
Florida court rules give prosecutors 45 days from the date of a defendant’s arraignment to decide whether to seek capital punishment. The decision rests with State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Though he has taken a reserved approach to the death penalty in other cases, Warren has left it as a possibility for Donaldson. The wishes of the victims’ families will be one factor he considers in making the decision, he said.
A grand jury indicted Donaldson last week on four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Felton, Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Anthony Naiboa. The four were all shot in the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa throughout October and November.
The murders terrorized the neighborhood and spurred the Tampa Police Department into a massive search for a killer.
Donaldson was arrested Nov. 28 after he gave a food bag with a gun inside to a fellow employee of an Ybor City McDonald’s, according to an arrest report. The employee notified police, who tested the weapon and determined it was the same one used in all four homicides.
Donaldson remains jailed without bail.