Tampa Serial Killer Suspect Captured; Charged with Four Counts of Murder

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Howell Donaldson III Image via NY Daily News

Tampa police announced an arrest in the series of fatal shootings leaving four people dead. Authorities arrested Howell Donaldson III and charged him with four counts of first-degree murder. However, the arrest leaves many with more questions than answers.

Any criminologist would love to sit in on the interview with the police department and Donaldson III. Criminologists analyze the mind of a criminal. What’s baffling is how a quiet college graduate with no criminal record turned into a serial killer. I know, this case is leaving me with the same questions. However, the Tampa police seemingly think they apprehended the correct man.

Earlier in the day, Donaldson III, who is 24 years old went to McDonald’s where he works. According to CNN, he handed a brown paper bag to a co-worker for safe keeping. In the bag was a gun. Immediately, the coworker gave the gun to a police officer. The officer called for backup and detained him.

After nearly two months, the search was over. Just like that, a serial killer was apprehended. With no high-speed chase, no hostage situation, and no apprehension at the scene of the crime. Normally, with the magnitude of the killings in Tampa, one would expect a violent ending.

However, the police captured Donaldson alive and brought him in for questioning. He admits to owning the gun. According to the Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, “Donaldson admitted that he owned the gun but did not admit to the killings.” In addition, the police recovered a hoodie and jacket from Donaldson. Last month, a surveillance video released showed the suspect running from the scene of the crime. Dugan stated, recovering those items is encouraging.

In fact, the police chief is convinced that they have finally caught the person responsible. “We’ve had other guns, but we knew this was the one,” Dugan said, “Now the work begins to shore up the case and get a full prosecution.”

The Victims

Indeed, questions remain regarding how the victims are connected. Why did the shooter target them? Apparently, the suspect targeted citizens doing ordinary activities, such as waiting at a bus stop, crossing the street or just taking a walk at night. Consequently, the Seminole Heights neighborhood lived in fear that a serial killer was on the loose.

The Victims (L to R): Anthony Naiboa, Monica Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Ronald Felton. Via CNN

Benjamin Mitchell, an aspiring musician and community college student, was shot while standing alone at a bus stop. The next victim, Monica Hoffa, a 32-year-old waitress body was found in a vacant lot about 10 blocks from Mitchell’s body. A few days later, Anthony Naiboa who had a mild form of autism, took a different route home. The shooter killed Naiboa as he was walking home. The last victim found dead is Ronald Felton.  Previously a homeless man, Felton volunteered twice a week with a food bank.

The Suspected Serial Killer

Donaldson attended St. John’s University in New York beginning in fall 2011 and graduated in January 2017, according to Brian Browne, Executive Director of University Relations.

A former college suitemate describes Donaldson as very quiet. “Donaldson had the best manners, dressed very well, and was a sneakerhead.” He continued, he hadn’t witnessed any emotions of anger and he rarely attended any parties. Basically, he stayed to himself.

More importantly, he stated, he was just a regular guy. “Nothing stood out as violent.” In effect, his roommate painted a picture of someone who should be incapable of committing such heinous crimes.

The investigators will try to figure out Donaldson’s ties to the neighborhood and a motive. Although, the police would like to reassure the Seminole Heights community they have the right suspect, always be careful!

Florida Law

Donaldson will appear in court next week. Presently, he did not retain an attorney. More than likely, the judge will appoint a public defender.

Florida Statutes Sections 782.02-782.36

First-degree murder is a capital felony in Florida. For a capital felony, the state may pursue the death penalty. If court proceedings at the sentencing stage lead to a determination that the defendant should not receive the death penalty, state law requires a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Homicide, defined as the unlawful killing of a human being, includes several degrees of manslaughter or murder.  First-degree murder is the most serious homicide charge.

If the jury convicts Donaldson, it is highly likely that the District Attorney will seek the death penalty in this case.

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