State Attorney says parents of suspected Seminole Heights killer probably won't face jail time

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - The parents of accused serial killer Howell Donaldson said they're willing to go to jail to protect their son. But will they have to?

At a press conference Wednesday, State Attorney Andrew Warren cleared up some confusion surrounding the case, saying he doesn't think it will come to the parents going to jail.

Rosita and Howell Donaldson Jr. were slapped with a subpoena Tuesday for information on their son Howell Donaldson III, who is suspected of murdering four people in Seminole Heights over a 51-day period.

The Donaldsons have thus far refused to answer any questions about their son's state of mind leading up to the murders.

According to a motion to show cause, filed by Warren's office Wednesday, some of the topics the couple refused to answer include: questions related to their son's background, developmental history, mode of transportation, gun possession and ownership, and state of mind.

"They elected not to discuss any matters that they were asked about because they are not going to be witnesses against their son," their lawyer Ralph Fernandez told News Chanel 8.

As a father, Warren said he can "recognize and sympathize" with the Donaldson's situation, but he has an "ethical obligation to exhaust every investigative avenue" to better understand what happened.

Unlike spousal privilege, there is no parent-child evidentiary privilege in the state of Florida, therefore a parent could be forced to testify against their child, or vice-versa if the prosecution finds it necessary. But Warren said at this time in the case "no one has been asked to testify anything." The parents were subpoenaed to answer questions in private, and anything they say will not be used against them, according to Warren.

Warren refused to answer questions about Donaldson's mental health but said the prosecution is evaluating "all statutory mitigating information" before deciding whether to pursue the death penalty.  He also said Donaldson's history of mental illness is a part of that process.

If there is a legal basis to do so, Warren says he plans to seek the death penalty.  The prosecution has turned to the victims' families for their feelings on carrying out such a sentence.  The families are reportedly conflicted on the death penalty.

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