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Attorneys: Seminole Heights murder suspect might be mentally ill

The State Attorney's Office has charged Howell Emanuel Donaldson III with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, 22, Monica Hoffa, 32, Anthony Naiboa, 20, and Ronald Felton, 60. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
The State Attorney's Office has charged Howell Emanuel Donaldson III with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Benjamin Mitchell, 22, Monica Hoffa, 32, Anthony Naiboa, 20, and Ronald Felton, 60. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published April 24, 2018

TAMPA — Attorneys for the man accused of four Seminole Heights murders want a psychologist to determine if their client is mentally ill.

The lawyers filed a formal request late Monday for a judge to appoint an expert to assess whether Howell Emanuel Donaldson III's mental condition might make him incompetent to stand trial.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday morning before Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe.

The court paper, filed by Assistant Public Defender Charles Traina, states that Donaldson might not be capable of understanding the court proceedings or assisting in his own legal defense. It does not specify what Donaldson's mental condition might be.

RELATED: Hillsborough State Attorney will seek death penalty in Seminole Heights killings

Traina asked the judge to appoint psychologist Richard Carpenter to examine the defendant.

If Donaldson were declared incompetent, he would not escape prosecution.

Mentally ill defendants are typically sent to a state hospital for treatment. When doctors decide that a defendant is well enough to be declared competent, he or she returns to court and the case continues toward trial.

Prosecutors have declared their intent to seek the death penalty against Donaldson, 25. He is accused in the apparently random shootings of four people, which occurred over several weeks in October and November in Tampa's southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood. The killings of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa, and Ronald Felton captured national attention.

RELATED: Judge says no to hair classes for parents of Seminole Heights murder defendant, okays other house arrest privileges

Donaldson was arrested in late November after he gave a bag that held a handgun to a worker at a McDonald's restaurant in Ybor City, where he worked. The gun was the same used in all four killings, police said. Data records from Donaldson's cell phone also placed him near the scene of the murders.

In a January news conference to announce his intent to seek the death penalty, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said his office saw no indication that Donaldson was insane.

"There is no evidence of mental illness or any other mitigating factor that gives us pause about our decision to go forward," he said then.

RELATED: Arrest report details evidence that led police to suspect in Seminole Heights slayings

Warren, who was elected as the county's top prosecutor in 2016, has withdrawn from pursuit of death sentences in several murder cases he inherited, including some in which mental illness or intellectual disability was a factor.

At the same time, he has sought capital punishment anew against a handful of defendants, including Donaldson. At the January news conference, Warren said the crimes were "far more egregious than the typical murder."

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Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.