TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The second day of Ronnie Oneal III’s double murder trial in Tampa saw emotional testimony from first responders who recalled finding the young victims at the crime scene in March of 2018.
Oneal is accused of killing his girlfriend Kenyatta Barron and their disabled 9-year-old daughter before stabbing their son and setting their Riverview home on fire. The son survived.
Sgt. Frank Tagliarini, a 26-year-veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the first on scene. He emotionally recalled seeing Oneal’s young son come out of the burning home.
“A young child – appeared to be about 9 years old, looked to be about the same size as my son – came walking, struggling to the front – to where I was in the front yard,” Tagliarini said.
The sergeant told jurors the boy had significant injuries and was still smoldering from being set on fire.
“He appeared to have blood coming from his mouth. He was severely injured in his abdomen area. As I remember it, he had been disemboweled – it was pretty severe,” he said.
Tagliarini told jurors Oneal came out of the home after the boy. He testified that law enforcement used tasers to bring him down after he refused to comply with their demands that he get on the ground.
Oneal, acting as his own attorney, questioned Tagliarini about the arrest. But his questions only seemed to back up the segreant’s version of events.
“So did you not see me come out of the garage and stand where that object is and not get down? I did not comply,” Oneal said.
The officer agreed.
Paramedic Veronica Vitte then testified how she treated Oneal’s son before putting him on a helicopter to be taken to the hospital. Vitte described the child’s severe wounds, but said the boy told her what happened.
“Two statements stuck in my mind. I believe he said, ‘my dad killed my mom’ or ‘my dad shot my mom.’ It’s one of the two statements that he made,” Vitte said. “These are the two statements that have remained with me throughout the years.”
Some of the most emotional testimony came from firefighter Donald Foster, who said the home was on fire when he arrived to the scene. Prosecutors say Oneal set his home on fire after killing his girlfriend and daughter.
“It was my responsibility to extinguish the fire,” said Foster.
He told jurors that responsibility became urgent after he learned new information at the scene.
“We also had at that point – I don’t remember if it was a deputy or a bystander – came by and said that there’s another child inside the house,” Foster recalled.
He then described to jurors a nightmarish scene inside the home.
“The heat started to increase quite a bit, the smoke was banked down quite a bit,” Foster said as he described smoke so thick inside of the home he could only see a few inches in front of his face.
The veteran firefighter then described crawling along the wall and using his hand to search for the victim in the smoke. He told jurors he began slipping and, in the darkness and smoke, had to put his face near the ground to find out what was making him slip.
“I realized that the floor was covered in blood,” Foster said.
He eventually made his way to a back room that he said was engulfed in flames.
“Everything in the room was on fire. Clothes, wall, ceiling. Once again, visibility was limited,” he said.
Foster testified that he soon found what he was looking for.
“I thought I’d found a patient,” he said.
Foster told jurors he found the lifeless body of a little girl who was on fire. Oneal’s 9-year-old daughter was disabled and needed a wheelchair to get around.
According to prosecutors, Oneal used an axe to hit her in the head and kill her before setting the room on fire. Foster said he was still hoping to save her and brought her outside, where he realized she was dead.
The assistant state attorney asked Foster what he did next.
“Hugged my other firefighter and cried, to be honest with you,” Foster said.
Oneal’s son survived his extensive wounds from that night and is expected to testify against his father on Wednesday.