Alleged Tampa Serial Killer Judged Fit for Trial

(CN) – A Florida judge ruled Thursday that Howell Donaldson III, accused of carrying out a string of random murders in Tampa last year, is fit to stand trial.

Donaldson, 25, faces four counts of first-degree murder for allegedly gunning down residents of Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood over a two-month period last year.

Donaldson’s public defenders asked Florida Circuit Court Judge Mark Wolfe in May to have a doctor to examine Donaldson for a possible mental illness. The day before the court was set to hear those results from Richard Carpenter, a psychologist, the public defenders requested a second opinion. The judge allowed two more doctors to evaluate Donaldson.

At Thursday’s hearing, the state attorney’s office disclosed all three doctors found Donaldson is mentally fit to stand trial.

Donaldson was not present at the hearing. His defense attorney did not question the results or request the doctors to testify in court.

If Donaldson was not found competent, he would have been sent a state facility for treatment until he could stand trial.

Police arrested Donaldson on Nov. 28 after a 51-day citywide manhunt that included local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and even patrols by the Guardian Angels, the volunteer crime prevention organization.

The murders, seemingly random and occurring within blocks of one another, led to the cancellation of several neighborhood events and inspired residents to travel in pairs.

The final victim, 60-year-old Ronald Felton, was shot after leaving a church food pantry where he volunteered and crossed the street to meet a friend.

Felton’s assailant came upon him from behind, shot him in the back of the head and ran off. Tampa police were only blocks away, but the gunman still escaped.

That murder occurred a short distance from a mural memorializing the previous three victims: Benjamin Mitchell, 22, shot Oct. 9 while waiting for a bus; 32-year-old Monica Hoffa, a waitress at IHOP, found dead in a vacant lot on Oct. 13; and Anthony Naiboa, 20, shot on Oct. 19 while walking down a neighborhood street after taking the wrong bus home.

Donaldson’s arrest came after a McDonald’s co-worker tipped off police. According to his arrest affidavit, Donaldson asked the restaurant manager to hold a bag containing a .40-caliber Glock handgun while he walked to a nearby business for a payday loan. The manager alerted a Tampa police officer who was doing paperwork at a table in the restaurant.

When Donaldson returned to the restaurant, police arrested him. The affidavit shows Donaldson’s gun matches bullet casings found at three of the crime scenes. During questioning, detectives say he told them he wanted to get back to New York for school and asked for a ride to the airport.

Donaldson is currently being held without bond at Tampa’s Orient County Jail. He has no criminal record in Florida, according to court records, only several traffic citations.

The state attorney’s office has not yet speculated on a motive, but investigation documents released last month show a young man slowly withdrawing from friends and family, and engaging in increasingly odd behavior.

He asked friends for money and, in one case, a gun, according to interviews released by the state attorney’s office. Friends said Donaldson claimed he was homeless, even though his mother said he was home every night.

He bought the Glock handgun for $399 from a local gun shop three days before the first murder, according to a warrant.

The warrant also alleges Donaldson looked at a “adult-themed website” immediately after committing three of the murders. He also searched the Internet for “Seminole Heights killer,” the documents show.

The next hearing in the case occurs in October. A trial date has not been set.

Earlier this year, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said he intends to seek the death penalty in the case.

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