Prosecutors in Florida will likely push for the death penalty against the former athlete charged with murdering four people in a spate of isolated killings in the Tampa area.
Suspected serial killer Howell Emanuel “Trai” Donaldson III — a former St. John’s University basketball player — was ordered held without bail in his first court appearance last week. He made no statements to the judge as he stood in a restrictive sleeveless jail outfit with his wrists bound.
Tampa State Attorney Andrew Warren told reporters: “The death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst and, generally speaking, serial killings qualify.”
Mr. Donaldson is facing four charges of first-degree murder following a spree of seemingly unconnected murders that rocked the nation and terrified the residents of a Tampa area community for almost two months. He was arrested Tuesday while working at McDonald’s, after handing a loaded pistol to his shift manager who then called police to the scene.
The .40-caliber Glock was quickly matched to the shell casings found at the scene of three of the four recent shootings. Police also found that Mr. Donaldson’s cellphone data placed him at the scene of three of the murders. He confessed to owning the gun, but continued to deny responsibility for the killings.
BREAKING NEWS: Chief Dugan announced that Howell Donaldson III will face charges in connection with 4 murders in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. pic.twitter.com/MuqAWLRyN9
— TampaPD (@TampaPD) November 29, 2017
Detectives are still attempting to understand what caused the suspected serial killer to murder apparently random people between October 9 and November 14. Mr. Donaldson was part of the Red Storm basketball team’s squad for the 2010-2011 season and had returned to Tampa after graduating earlier this year. His friends were allegedly shocked by the news of his arrest, describing the sportsman they knew as “quiet and well-mannered”.
One of the defendant’s friends, Tyler Gimbert, 25, told the Tampa Bay Times, “My mom always commended him for his manners and likability, and she still says he was the most likable kid that you could possibly ask for. [She] started to tear up on the phone when I told her. My dad too. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Ryan Keyworth, another of Mr. Donaldson’s friends said he did not seem to be himself after returning to Tampa. “His demeanor was different,” Mr. Keyworth told reporters. “It was something that was talked about among our close group of friends. There was something going on. I didn’t want to pry because I figured if he wanted to talk, he would talk. But his diction changed. He was more aggressive in the way he talked. He had more of an edge. He had a fuse. I didn’t remember this kid being like this.”
At a short hearing following his first court appearance, Kenny Hoffa, the father of Monica Hoffa, who was gunned down on October 13, told reporters: “I’m praying for his family. I know they’re experiencing everything we’re experiencing.” He added: “Unfortunately, they’re going to suffer the loss of a son, like we lost a daughter. It’s a tragedy all the way around.”