TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – In what some see as a rare move, a Hillsborough County judge has granted a motion to allow four separate trials for accused Seminole Heights serial killer Howell Donaldson III.
Donaldson appeared in court Wednesday morning with his attorneys, who asked to have his offenses separated.
“It’s our position that there’s no meaningful relationship that exists between these offenses or these victims. These victims have no connection to each other. They didn’t know one another,” Dana Herce-Fulgueira, one of Donaldson’s attorneys, said.
The team presented case law, solidifying their points. They argued the murders were not committed as part of a crime spree, urging the judge to pave the way for separate trials.
“I am going to grant the motion to sever,” Judge Samantha Ward said after listening to around 40 minutes of arguments.
Legal Expert Charles Gallagher told 8 On Your Side one reason the defense team likely asked for this is because each jury would likely only have knowledge of one of the murders, not all four, and this could prevent prejudice.
Donaldson is accused of terrorizing the Seminole Heights community in 2017 for 51 days and shooting and killing four people during that time – Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton – until he was eventually caught.
“I said from the beginning, you don’t know everybody working to, you know, to make it easy. Make it easy for the defense,” Anthony’s father Casimir Naiboa said.
Naiboa said his focus over the past three years has been on his family.
“We together, we laugh or something, we know that somebody’s missing. You can’t help it. But my family go forward,” Naiboa said.
State Attorney Andrew Warren told 8 On Your Side his team is disappointed with the result but plans to move full steam ahead to bring justice to the families and the community.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision. These were four separate murders but one ongoing nightmare for the community,” Warren said.
Donaldson appeared in court in handcuffs and had a mask covering his face. He did not speak in court. His attorneys had no comment after the hearing.