TAMPA — It was bound to be an emotional sentencing hearing for Hillsborough County Judge Michelle Sisco and those who came Friday to speak their peace to Ronnie Oneal III, a Riverview man convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their autistic daughter, attempting to murder their then-8-year-old son, then burning their home to the ground with the family’s slain bodies still inside.
Oneal, 32, was deemed fit to stand trial during psychiatric evaluations and represented himself at trial, presenting a defense marked by loud outbursts and conspiracy theories. And his final remarks to the judge and his victims’ family Friday morning were delivered with the same volatile and unapologetic tone.
But from the top of Friday’s hearing, something else was eating away at Sisco and her courtroom of heartbroken friends and family.
Social media had tuned in to the three-week-long hearing where Oneal was allowed to represent himself in court, and thousands of anonymous Internet users had plastered online forums with video snippets and memes of Oneal’s erratic outbursts.
Carrie Lloyd broached the topic in her tearful comments on the loss of her daughter, 33-year-old Kenyatta Barron and granddaughter, 9-year-old Ron’Niveya Oneal. She spoke of how, in the days following the trial, friends and family members showed her videos that had gone viral on TikTok, a video-based social media platform popular with teens and young adults.
“The whole time this has been going on he has just made it out to be a joke,” Lloyd said.
Just one of those jokes is a popular tweet that uses video of Ronnie Oneal III’s court argument to support U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who was suspended for 30 days and deemed ineligible from competing in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for traces of a chemical found in marijuana.
“Any person posting a meme on social media of this case, they really have no idea what they’re doing - they obviously don’t understand or know what the facts are,” Sisco said. “Using a photo from our trial and likening it to what an athlete is going through? All I could think was, do they have any idea? It’s shameful, absolutely shameful.”
One of the most popular versions of that tweet, from account @_Mikeice1 had garnered 27,100 retweets and 94,100 likes as of Friday afternoon.
“Me in front of the Olympics headquarters fighting Sha’Carri case,” the tweet reads, followed by a clip of Oneal passionately yelling at the jury in his self defense.
“Cause if you think I’m here to play around with y’all, g--dammit, I’m not,” Oneal says in the video.
That same video clip has been making the rounds on TikTok. One version of the clip, posted by user candyb_08 captions it “How old school teachers fuss at the class.” The post has gotten 81,500 likes, 1,205 comments and has been shared 7,526 times.
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Another TikTok post shows a clip of Oneal dubbed with a snippet of dialogue from the cartoon The Boondocks. “And that’s when it hit me, the best idea I’ve ever had in my entire life,” the audio says, followed by a video of poster 7jimmie7 lip synching, “That’s the worst idea you’ve ever had in your entire life.” That post had 30,500 likes, 226 comments and 60 shares by midday Friday.
Lloyd told Sisco that some of the TikTok videos she’d seen in recent days even contained audio from the 911 call Kenyatta Barron made after Ronnie Oneal shot her in the shoulder during a fight on March 18, 2018. The audio call captured the final moments of Barron’s life, with Oneal barking orders at his son while the boy’s mother screams for her life.
“Imagine someone coming to you, showing you some video of your daughter’s death on TikTok because of his bad actions,” Lloyd said, “showing you my daughter’s screams because they want to dig at him so they have to dig at her to get to him.”
In an audio recording of the chilling phone call, Oneal can be heard telling Barron that “the kids are mine now, bitch.” He can be heard yelling at his son, telling him to sit down “before I kill you,” then telling the boy to say “Allahu Akbar” and the boy repeating the same.
Barron can be heard screaming as Oneal yells at the boy to bring him a knife. As the father asks the boy where the knife is, “Little Ronnie” can then be heard crying.
It was already a foregone conclusion that Oneal would spend life in prison after a jury found him guilty of the brutal murders, yet spared him the death penalty. But on Friday, as she ensured those life sentences would be served out consecutively, ensuring Oneal will die behind bars, Sisco said the case was the worst, the “most haunting” and “horrific” she had ever heard in her 19 years on the bench. And those who continue to take images, audio or video from the trial and spin them into something humorous for their own enjoyment are “absolutely disgusting,” she said.
“The way that Ms. Barron died was horrific, and in that 911 call, which truly captured all of it, what I heard and what all those people who listened to it and spread it around heard was a death scream,” Sisco said. “If you’ve ever wanted to know what it sounds like when a human being dies, when they know that their death is imminent, that’s exactly what it is. That was a death scream.”