Ronnie Oneal III rests after half-hour defense, will not testify in murder trial

Oneal is accused of killing his wife and daughter in their Riverview home. He has represented himself in trial.
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 18, 2021|Updated June 18, 2021

TAMPA — Jurors in the double murder case against Ronnie Oneal III are expected to hear closing arguments Monday after Oneal rested his defense Friday, calling three witnesses.

Oneal, 32, who is representing himself in a case that is gaining international attention, questioned the three over about a half-hour on Friday. His defense was littered with objections from prosecutors.

Much of his case appeared geared toward showing inconsistencies on his T-Mobile call log on March 18, 2018, the night his girlfriend, Kenyatta Barron, 33, and 9-year-old daughter, Ron’Niveya Oneal, were killed.

Oneal also is accused of stabbing his then-8-year-old son before setting the family’s Riverview home on fire.

Judge Michelle Sisco dismissed one juror on Friday morning because of health issues. The first of two alternates was brought in to take the juror’s place.

Oneal faces a potential death sentence if convicted. He elected Friday not to testify in the trial.

One of the witnesses called by Oneal was Deputy Christopher Heaverin, who was asked about Oneal and Barron’s call logs. Barron’s shows a 911 call the night of the killings. Oneal’s does not, despite a recording of a 911 call he made, which prosecutors played earlier Friday.

“I’ve just been attacked,” Oneal said in the recording, which according to testimony came less than 10 minutes after Barron called 911. “She tried to kill me.”

Oneal spent hardly any time with his other two witnesses, and prosecutors only cross-examined Heaverin. Throughout his own defense, Oneal was visibly frustrated as the state objected repeatedly. He often gazed at the ground or glared at the prosecutors.

Objections came when Oneal appeared to argue with witnesses or gave a narration instead of asking a question.

Oneal asked only a few questions of his first two witnesses. They included a young man who lived near the Oneal home. He described seeing Barron run out of the house late that night with Oneal chasing her with a shotgun.

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

The prosecution’s case rested just before 11:30 a.m. Friday, concluding a week in which jurors heard horrifying screams from 911 calls, saw images from the crime scene and heard from state witnesses, including law enforcement officers and Oneal’s family members.

On Wednesday, Oneal’s son testified via video call so he wouldn’t be in the same room as the man accused of killing his mother and sister.

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

Oneal’s stepfather, Billy Smith, told jurors Thursday about a call Oneal made just before midnight on March 18, 2018.

“They’re trying to kill me,” Smith recalls Oneal telling him.

That call was made just after Barron called 911, according to court testimony.

Later Thursday, fire investigator and K9 handler Jefferey Batz detailed how his 9-year-old black Labrador, Booker, helped probe the house on the morning of March 19, just after the fire.

When she sniffed the children’s clothes, Booker sat, an indication that she smelled gasoline. When she walked around the exterior of the house, she also sat multiple times. In Ron’Niveya’s bedroom, Booker sat five times. Forensic investigators also testified that items from the home tested positive for gasoline.

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Photos from the interior of the house showed curtain rods fallen off the wall and walls burned by the fire. They showed clothes and household items were charred. There were singed bed sheets and smoke stains near the stickers of Frozen princesses on Ron’Niveya’s bed.

The state’s last witness was Thomas Dirks, the case detective. During cross-examination, Oneal asked Dirks if he could say for certain if Oneal committed murder.

“Yes, that’s why I arrested you,” Dirks said.

“I’m being treated guilty until proven innocent,” Oneal later said.

Jurors were sent home for the weekend soon after noon Friday. They will return Monday for closing arguments and the beginning of deliberations.

Judge Sisco told them to bring an overnight bag.