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Local attorney expects mental health experts to be vital in defense of accused Seminole Heights killer

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) -- Many are calling for the death penalty as Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt prepares to defend accused Seminole Heights killer Howell "Trai" Donaldson, III.

Barry Cohen, a well-known trial lawyer in the Tampa area isn't working the case but says if he was, he'd try early on to get an assessment of Donaldson's mental health.

"You got to find out what was going on inside his head," Cohen said.

Cohen says strong opinions and vocal support for the death penalty could affect the pool of local mental health experts who are willing to become involved in the case.

He says area psychiatrists would likely feel pressure from the community and might worry about their future careers if their evaluations concluded with Donaldson being insane or don't lean toward the death penalty.

Cohen believes the public defender's office will likely have to look for experts out of state due to those reasons.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Police Chief Brian Dugan and most of the victims' family members we spoke with believe Donaldson deserves the death penalty if found guilty.

Holt told News Channel 8 exclusively that her team has more than 130 years of experience.

"We have a team of five lawyers, two investigators and a mitigation specialist," she said.

Holt would not give any details when asked about mental health experts but said her team will leave no stone unturned.


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