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Buckhorn: If Seminole Heights murder suspect found guilty, 'he should die'

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hugs Officer Randi Whitney as he and Governor Rick Scott congratulate her on the arrest of the suspect in the Seminole Heights killings at Tampa Police Headquarters in Tampa, Fla. on Wednesday. At a press conference later in the day, Buckhorn said the suspected killer, if found guilty, "should die." WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hugs Officer Randi Whitney as he and Governor Rick Scott congratulate her on the arrest of the suspect in the Seminole Heights killings at Tampa Police Headquarters in Tampa, Fla. on Wednesday. At a press conference later in the day, Buckhorn said the suspected killer, if found guilty, "should die." WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published Nov. 29, 2017

TAMPA — If a jury finds Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III guilty of four Seminole Heights murders, he should be executed, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday.

Buckhorn's remarks came at a news conference in Seminole Heights where Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan provided updates in the department's case against Donaldson.

Asked whether he thought Donaldson deserved the death penalty, Dugan declined to weigh in, saying decisions about punishment will come later. Police, he said, are still building their case against Donaldson.

Buckhorn concurred that the legal process should work its course.

But he added: "At the end of the day, if he's found to be guilty, he should die."

It's not the first time Buckhorn has advocated for the killer's death. While rallying police investigating the murders in October, Buckhorn told officers to, "Bring his head to me."

Donaldson, 24, was taken to police headquarters Tuesday from a Ybor City McDonald's where he worked. A co-worker tipped off police that Donaldson had given her a gun in a McDonald's bag.

Dugan said the gun matched shell casings from three of the four recent Seminole Heights murders, the first of which occurred 52 days ago. Dugan said Donaldson admitted to police that he purchased the gun.

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

Police are "100 percent confident" that Donaldson's arrest would end in conviction, Dugan said.

"I assure you, this is the man who did this," he said.

It will be up to State Attorney Andrew Warren to decide whether to pursue the death penalty. Warren, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor elected to office last year, has walked a difficult tight rope on death penalty cases.

RELATED: Andrew Warren threads the needle in death penalty debate.

In a three-page policy proposal in March, he wrote that he would pursue the death penalty only in the very worst cases, and not in cases "where mental illness played a role in the commission of the crime." The proposal came after Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola Counties, declined to pursue the death penalty for an accused cop killer.

Since he took over, Warren has withdrawn the pursuit of the death penalty in seven of 24 cases he inherited.

"My mission as State Attorney is to keep our community safe while promoting fairness and justice for everyone in Hillsborough," he wrote. "Given the lack of evidence that the death penalty deters crime and legitimate questions about its fair and just application, capital punishment does not help accomplish that mission."

At the news conference, Dugan said he talked to Warren at the McDonald's on Tuesday but a penalty was not discussed.

Warren was traveling to Washington, D.C., Wednesday for a summit called "Prosecutors Against Gun Violence."

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Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno

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