Accused murderer's parents face contempt charges

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The parents of the 24-year-old man suspected in a string of fatal shootings that terrorized a Florida neighborhood must "show cause" on why they shouldn't be held in civil contempt for refusing to answer investigators' questions about the case, a judge ruled Thursday.

"Within days of this tragedy striking, you know, devastated as they are, exhausted", Fernandez said.

Howell Donaldson, III is accused of murdering Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton using the same weapon.

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. It's likely a court reporter will be made available for a private interview if they choose to answer questions. They have been given until January 5 to cooperate, or else they risk being fined or contempt of court charges.

"They elected not to discuss any matters that they were asked about because they are not going to be witnesses against their son", said Donaldson's parents' attorney, Ralph Fernandez. "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.

For that reason, the judge chose to give the Donaldsons time to think about whether or not they'll answer questions.

"It's implicit. that they want something from them that will flawless 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.

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Prior to Thursday's hearing, Fernandez told ABC News that the Donaldsons were "fully advised" on their actions and are "ready to take the effect".

"I don't think that there is a greater treasure than the family", he said. He was detained after a co-worker told police that Donaldson handed her a bag with a gun inside and told her to watch it for him.

Police say the evidence against Donaldson is compelling. Cellphone location data also connected him to areas near the killings when they occurred, the affidavit stated.

Howell Donaldson Jr. and Rosita Donaldson were subpoenaed to speak with investigators Monday.

Buckhorn previously told police in a press conference, "Bring [the shooter's] head to me", bluntly promising police would "hunt this son of a bitch down until [they] catch him".

"We're not only trying to build a case against the defendant, we're trying to ask the broader question of why - a question that the victims' families and the community deserves to have answered", Warren, the state attorney, said Wednesday.

"We believe in him, and we're here for him", she added. Instead, the parents spoke emotionally about their family and the families of the victims.

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