A Florida judge says the parents of a 24-year-old man suspected in a string of fatal shootings in a Tampa neighborhood must "show cause" on why they shouldn't be held in civil contempt for refusing to answer investigators' questions. Answers to those questions potentially could be used to determine whether Donaldson III murdered four people this fall in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood.
Fernandez says he feels he's protecting the Donaldsons from having to go through more emotional pain by having to speak and he feels they're justified in not wanting to say anything that could help the state sentence their son to death.
State Attorney Andrew Warren called the refusal a "rarity".
During today's hearing, Judge Margaret Taylor agreed with the state that the goal is not to punish the Donaldsons, but rather to convince them to testify on their son's background, mental state, and gun possession.
During the hearing Thursday, their attorney, Ralph Fernandez will have to explain to a judge why they should not be held in contempt.
Taylor, citing case law from a Miami-area judge, ordered the parents to appear in court January 5, 2018, to show cause as to why they should not be held in civil contempt. She added that the Donaldsons may go to the state attorney at any time before the court date if they choose to answer questions.
"There is no privilege, derived from either the constitutional or statute, that allows them to avoid answering questions".
"I prayed for those families when it first started", Rosita Donaldson said, holding back tears. "In their distressed state, theyre asked to testify against their son".
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"If there's a legal basis to seek the death penalty and it's consistent with the wishes of the victims' families, we intend to seek the death penalty", Warren said.
"Im a father. So I recognize and sympathize with the unenviable situation that theyre in", Warren said.
"I'm not suggesting they have any direct knowledge, but I'm not suggesting they don't", he said.
"Were not only trying to build a case against the defendant, were trying to ask the broader question of why", Warren said.
If the parents do say anything it will be a statement, in part saying, "our lives were flawless until November the 28". He was taken into custody last week at the McDonald's in Ybor City, where he works, after handing a gun to a co-worker, who later turned it over to police.
Donaldson has been jailed without bail since his arrest.
Fernandez said the couple was in no shape to be grilled by prosecutors, even with immunity.