Judge warns accused serial killer's parents: Cooperate or explain why not

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The judge will weigh whether Howell Donaldson Jr. and his wife, Rosita Donaldson have legal just cause for not answering certain questions posed to them by investigators.

They refused on Tuesday to answer questions about their son, Howell Donaldson III, who now faces four counts of first-degree murder.

The parents' attorney, Ralph Fernandez, argued Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson won't be put in a position to help determine life or death for their son if the death penalty is sought. They can answer prosecutors' questions before then if wanted.

This file booking photo provided by the Tampa Police Department, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, shows Howell Emanuel Donaldson, the suspect in a string of four slayings that terrorized a Tampa neighborhood. A judge ordered Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson back to court on January 5 to explain why they are not cooperating with investigators.

Benjamin Mitchell, 22 was killed at approximately 9 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9.

He said the couple are like hostages in their own home after receiving death threats. "They have an interest in protecting their child", he said. Fernandez said one caller to his office left a message threatening to hang both the lawyer and the suspect from a tree outside his window. He says most people understand they have a duty to answer questions.

"It's implicit ... that they want something from them that will ideal the case so that, perhaps, their son is executed and it's one of these concepts that is very hard for any parent", Fernandez said of the state.

24-year-old Howell Donaldson III is accused of killing four people in a string of recent murders that terrorized the Seminole Heights community
24-year-old Howell Donaldson III is accused of killing four people in a string of recent murders that terrorized the Seminole Heights community

Prior to Thursday's hearing, Fernandez told ABC News that the Donaldsons were "fully advised" on their actions and are "ready to take the outcome". "I still believe in an America that respects that great family value".

"I think it shocks the conscience of Americans to be part of a system of justice that is identical on this issue as North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Iran, where parents are compelled to testify against their children and children against their parents", Fernandez told ABC News Wednesday.

Police say the evidence against Donaldson is compelling. Police detained Donaldson and determined that his firearm was used in all four killings, according to the criminal affidavit.

He faces four charges of murder and could receive the death penalty if convicted.

"And as our statutory obligation, our ethical obligation dictates us to exhaust every lawful investigative avenue", assistant state attorney Jay Pruner told the judge Thursday morning.

Howell Donaldson III, a Tampa native and graduate of St. John's University in New York City, is being held in a Hillsborough County jail without bond. "Our hearts go out to the families and the loss that they have". Instead, the parents spoke emotionally about their family and the families of the victims.

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