• Howell Emanuel Donaldson, 24, was ordered held without bail Thursday morning with another hearing set for Tuesday at 10 a.m.
• He faces four counts of murder for the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, 22; Monica Hoffa, 32; Anthony Naiboa, 20; and Ronald Felton, 60.
• Donaldson was taken to Tampa police headquarters Tuesday from a Ybor City McDonald’s where he worked. A co-worker tipped off police that Donaldson had given her a gun in a McDonald’s bag. The McDonald’s general manager who police have credited with giving the tip said she is “overwhelmed” by the situation.
• Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said the gun matched shell casings from three of the four recent Seminole Heights murders, the first of which occurred 52 days ago. Dugan said Donaldson admitted to police that he purchased the gun.
• Authorities are still sorting out who, if anyone, will get the $110,000 reward money offered in the Seminole Heights serial killings, Dugan said Wednesday. But the McDonald’s worker credited with helping with the case has already received $9,000 of the reward after restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart stopped by the restaurant to hand her a personal check. Asked by a reporter if she would receive at least some of the reward, Dugan replied, “We’re going to sift through everything and see what rewards will be appropriate.” READ MORE HERE.
• Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday if Donaldson is found guilty of the killings he should be executed. "At the end of the day, if he’s found to be guilty, he should die."
• It will be up to State Attorney Andrew Warren to decide whether to pursue the death penalty. Warren, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor elected to office last year, has walked a difficult tight rope on death penalty cases.
TAMPA — The man accused in a string of Seminole Heights killings in a 51-day stretch will be held without bail until at least Tuesday, a judge said Thursday morning.
Howell Emanuel Donaldson III made his first court appearance just after 9 a.m. to face murder charges, the beginning of what likely will be a legal odyssey that could last between one and three years.
On Dec. 5 at 10 a.m., the judge will determine if Donaldson should be continue to be held without bail in the time leading up to and during his trial.
He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, 22; Monica Hoffa, 32; Anthony Naiboa, 20; and Ronald Felton, 60.
Donaldson was previously arrested in New York City in 2014, but the case against him is barred from public record. The New York Police Department said Wednesday that Howell Donaldson was arrested in Manhattan that year. But a judge ordered the case sealed. That state allows arrest records to be sealed in certain circumstances. They include cases in which charges were dismissed or the defendant was acquitted. The charge connected to Donaldson’s arrest was not provided. He lived in New York while attending St. John’s University. READ MORE HERE.
A couple of college basketball teammates of Donaldson recalled him as cocky but happy and harmless when he was a freshman at St. John’s University. Trai Donaldson walked onto the Division I team for the 2011-12 season, according to the university.
“He just had a mouth on him really,” said Gerard Rivers, a fellow walk-on guard who recalled how Donaldson used to toss around the word “b****” when talking trash to teammates. ”(As a walk-on), really your role is to just be humble and help where you can, and that wasn’t him.”
“He was a tough kid, he played with a chip on his shoulder,” said Sam Sealy, a fellow walk-on. READ MORE HERE.
A childhood friend of Donaldson said he recently noticed a change in Donaldson’s personality. Around last Easter, Ryan Keyworth said, a group of old buddies had gotten together for a friendly game of pickup basketball. But when Donaldson was fouled, Keyworth saw rage in his once patient friend’s eyes. “His demeanor was different,” Keyworth said. “It was something that was talked about among our close group of friends.” READ MORE HERE.
Donaldson, who went by the name Trai, worked at a McDonald’s in Tampa.
He bought the gun, a Glock,that he gave to a co-worker on Tuesday on Oct. 3 at a gun shop called Shooter’s World on E Fletcher Avenue, according to a police report.
He was born in North Carolina, according to the arrest report. He lists that he graduated Alonso High School on his Facebook page. He also was at Tampa Catholic High School for some amount of time, where he played basketball.
He did not live in Seminole Heights, the neighborhood of all four killings.
The gun is not the only thing tying him to the four killings.
Investigators say cellphone data shows he was in Southeast Seminole Heights on the dates and times of the first three murders. Other phone records show him “geographically associated” with the areas of all four murders.
They also found blood on a hoodie that matched what the man seen in surveillance footage was wearing after the killings. READ MORE HERE.
TAMPA — John O’Meara stepped off his porch barefoot as a pack of Seminole Heights residents passed by his house on a cool Tuesday night.
“Did you guys see the news?” the 42-year-old asked the group. It was 6 p.m., and they were handing out fliers, encouraging neighbors to hang up holiday lights this weekend.
“Light the Heights” was aimed at bringing Seminole Heights together to celebrate the holidays — and make the streets safer. Four people had been killed there in six weeks, leaving the area on edge and blanketed by police.
Before Howell Emanuel Donaldson III handed a gun to a McDonald’s coworker and drew four murder charges, his coworkers had teased him about looking like the Seminole Heights killer, one of them said.
“We would tease him and say he was the killer, because he looked like the pictures,” Gail Rogers, a four-year employee at the McDonald’s in Ybor City, told the Tampa Bay Times.
“I called him the killer to his face,” she said. “He didn’t like that.”
Rogers said the restaurant manager wasn’t sure what to do when Donaldson handed over a gun in a bag.
“He handed her the gun,” Rogers said. “He said he would text her what to do with it. I told her let’s tell the police officer.” READ MORE HERE.
Shell casings and cell phone data link the man police arrested Tuesday to four recent murders in Seminole Heights, an arrest report shows.
The two-page report released Wednesday offers new details in the evidence against Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the 24-year-old Tampa resident charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
Investigators found .40 caliber shell casings at all four of the locations where Monica Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton were found shot to death between Oct. 9 and Nov. 14, the report states. A forensic analysis by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that shell casings from the first three murder scenes were fired from a Glock handgun that Donaldson admitted to purchasing on Oct. 3 at Shooter’s World on East Fletcher Avenue in Tampa, the report says. Store receipts showed he picked up the gun four days later, after a mandatory waiting period, along with a 20-round box of .40 caliber ammunition.
What’s next for the man accused of murdering four people in Seminole Heights?
From a legal perspective, it’s too early to predict, said Charles Rose, a noted trial expert and professor of law at Stetson University College of Law.
But what little we know about the state’s evidence against Howell Donaldson suggests some obvious paths for prosecutors and defense attorneys as the case winds through the court system.
One area a defense attorney will look at may be whether Donaldson understood what he was doing when he allowed police to search his car and examine his gun. Consent for such searches must be done “freely, knowingly, and voluntarily,” Rose said.
“We really don’t know yet whether there is a legal issue there,” Rose said. “That’s just what a defense attorney would normally do.”
Whether the police can develop more physical evidence will also determine where the case goes. READ MORE HERE.
Inside the Tampa Police Department on Wednesday morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott tried to thank officer Randi Whitney for her role in arresting the man suspected of killing four individuals in Seminole Heights, but she graciously deflected the praise.
“This was because of the entire department,” she said.
Thirty minutes later, that team effort was the theme of a press conference led jointly by Scott and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn who were flanked by leaders of the TPD, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol.
“I can tell you with a great deal of certainty we would not have solved this case without the help of the agencies you see behind us,” Buckhorn said.
The cell phone data investigators used to connect Howell Donaldson III to the Seminole Heights homicides is a common strategy used by law enforcement in the last 15 years.
According to Donaldson’s arrest report, police obtained call detail records for cell towers near the crime scenes. They showed that within minutes of the murders, Donaldson’s cell phone was “geographically associated” with those towers.
John Sawicki, a Tallahassee-based computer forensics analyst who specializes in cell phone technology, said investigators likely used the tower data like this:
Police identified towers that serviced the locations of the homicide scenes and requested the records from AT&T. Then they’ll do what’s called a “tower dump,” where they’ll comb through phone numbers that have been serviced by that tower to find a common number.
If the same cell phone number is found at all tower locations, Sawicki said, “the chance of finding your own actual suspect really increases significantly.”
When police questioned Donaldson on Tuesday afternoon, he allowed them to search his phone. Investigators discovered location data near three of the murder scenes on Oct. 9, Oct. 11, and Oct 19.
“The significance of the dates and times are that they correspond with the dates and times of the first three murders,” the report reads. READ MORE HERE.