‘Thank you for all you’ve done’: Deputy who adopted child victim testifies in murder trial

The former Hillsborough detective had a limited role in the case of Ronnie Oneal III before deciding to adopt the boy.
Ronnie Oneal III during his murder trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Tampa.
Ronnie Oneal III during his murder trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published June 17, 2021|Updated June 18, 2021

TAMPA — He was once a homicide detective, but is now a corporal who helps patrol suburban Hillsborough County. He’s also a husband and a father to several children. One of his children is a victim in a case he helped investigate.

The man who adopted the boy known as Ronnie Oneal IV testified Thursday in the murder trial of the boy’s biological father.

Ronnie Oneal III is accused of killing the boy’s mother, Kenyatta Barron, along with their daughter and the boy’s sister, Ron’Niveya Oneal. Prosecutors say Oneal also attacked his son, stabbing and burning him as he set the family’s Riverview home ablaze.

Related: Son, witness to Riverview killings, testifies in dad's murder trial

The corporal told a jury Thursday about his involvement in the case, which was minimal, and his decision to adopt the child.

The Tampa Bay Times is not naming the corporal to protect his son’s identity.

He told the jury he arrived at the murder scene on Pike Lake Drive about 1 a.m. March 19, 2018. He helped author a search warrant for the fire-scarred home, but did little else.

“I participated in nothing of that investigation except that initial night,” he said.

The first time he met the child was 11 days after the crime. The boy was still in Tampa General Hospital recovering from stab wounds, collapsed lungs and burns that marked a quarter of his body.

The boy was a football fan. Sheriff’s officials knew that the corporal had connections to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was asked if he could get the team to do something for the boy. Team members later brought him Bucs shirts, jerseys, and footballs. “The Bucs, I think, cleared out the shop for him,” he testified.

The same day of the Bucs visit, the boy asked if the corporal could stay and watch a movie. He and his wife spent the evening of March 30, 2018, with him. That night, they met the boy’s guardian ad litem, a court-appointed child advocate. The corporal said to call if the boy ever needed anything.

The following August, he was told the boy had been in foster care, but needed to be moved to a new home with someone who could manage his medical care. His guardian ad litem asked if the corporal knew anyone who might take care of him.

“What was your response?” asked Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale.

“I told her that—”

Here, the corporal paused, his voice quaking with emotion.

“I told her my wife and I would be happy to take him,” he said.

The boy arrived at their home about 90 minutes later. They formally adopted him in November 2019.

The prosecutor asked if the corporal had ever talked about the murder investigation with his son. He said he had not.

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“I told him early on that we would never have any of those conversations or any conversations about the case at all,” he said.

Oneal, who is representing himself in his trial, had the chance to cross examine the corporal, but asked no questions.

“Thank you for all you’ve done,” Oneal told him. “And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”