Former neo-Nazi won't face death penalty if convicted of killing roommates in Tampa

Published Aug. 11, 2017

TAMPA — Devon Arthurs, the alleged former neo-Nazi accused of killing his roommates because they disrespected his conversion to Islam, will not face the death penalty.

In a routine court hearing Thursday morning, prosecutors announced that they do not intend to seek capital punishment in Arthurs' case.

The 18-year-old is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the May 19 deaths of Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, in the Tampa Palms apartment they shared.

Arthurs was arrested the same day, after he stormed into a nearby smoke shop and held several people hostage until his surrender, police reported. He told officers he had killed the pair in the apartment, then led them to their bodies.

Outside, police encountered a fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, who was described as hysterical and crying.

In a subsequent search of the property, authorities found assorted bombmaking materials. They said the items belonged to Russell, 21, who was the leader of a small-time neo-Nazi group, and was said to admire Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Russell was later arrested on federal explosives charges. He is not accused of involvement in the killings.

Arthurs remains jailed, but was not present for the Thursday morning hearing.

Oneschuk's father, Walter Oneschuk, said the State Attorney's Office informed his family before the decision was announced.

"One way or another, we don't really care whether he gets the death penalty or not, as long as he spends the rest of his life in prison and a very uncomfortable life in prison," Oneschuk said.

State law grants local elected state attorneys the discretion to seek death sentences in individual first-degree murder cases. In order to obtain a death sentence, the prosecutors must prove to a jury the existence of at least one aggravating factor, making the defendant eligible for a death sentence.

There are 16 possible aggravating factors specified in state law. Some of them include that the victim was less than 12 years old, the victim was a law enforcement officer, or the crime was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.

A jury must also find that any aggravating factors are not outweighed by mitigating circumstances, which can include things like the defendant's age or mental state at the time of the crime.

Juries must be unanimous in their findings and their ultimate decision to recommend a death sentence.

State Attorney Andrew Warren declined to discuss the Arthurs case, noting that it is pending. But in an emailed statement, he reiterated previous statements he has made about his approach to capital punishment.

"When exercising my discretion whether to seek the death penalty, I aim to seek justice for victim's families and our community," Warren said. "I thoroughly evaluate each capital punishment-eligible case for any aggravators and mitigators, such as a person's criminal history or mental illness, and of course consider the wishes of the victim's family."

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Arthurs does not have a prior criminal record. After his arrest, he gave a detailed confession to detectives, according to court records. He claimed he wanted to prevent his roommates from committing acts of domestic terrorism.

Portions of Arthurs' video-recorded interrogation were later played in a bail hearing in Russell's federal court case. Afterward, Russell's attorney, Ian Goldstein, questioned Arthurs' sanity.

If convicted, Arthurs faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.