Following a trial that included disturbing 911 recordings and evidence, as well as emotional testimony from the surviving victim, prosecutors have secured a guilty verdict in the trial of Ronnie Oneal III.
After deliberating for four-and-a-half hours, the 12-member jury found Oneal guilty as charged on all seven counts: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated child abuse, as well as one count each of arson and resisting a law enforcement officer without violence.
“These murders are among the most cruel and vicious our community has ever seen. Sitting in the courtroom with the victims’ family, hearing a mother’s screams, seeing the horrific pictures of her daughter—it’s hard to fathom how someone can do something so barbaric. His punishment—his life—now sits with a jury of his peers, as it should,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said.
Investigators found that Oneal shot and beat the mother of his children to death with a shotgun, picked up a hatchet and attacked and killed their 9-year-old daughter, and then used a kitchen knife to slash and stab their 8-year-old son.
Oneal then attempted to set fire to the house; his daughter’s body; and his son, who was still alive. Oneal’s son managed to escape with his life and testified remotely during the trial while receiving ongoing support and counseling from experts in pediatric mental health. Since the incident on March 18, 2018, Oneal’s son has been adopted by a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detective. The detective had limited involvement in this case.
Assistant State Attorneys Ronald Gale, Scott Harmon, and Luis Aguila prosecuted the case. Oneal served as his own defense attorney during the eleven-day trial.
The same jury will remain in place for the penalty phase of the trial, which will begin Wednesday. The State will outline for the jurors why the death penalty is appropriate in this case. Prosecutors will present aggravating factors, and the defense is able to present mitigating factors if they wish.
Ultimately, under Florida law, the aggravating factors must significantly outweigh the mitigating factors to permit the death penalty. The jury will then deliberate and decide whether to recommend death to the judge.
To sentence 32-year-old Oneal to death, a recommendation of death from the jury must be unanimous, and the judge must then agree. If any of the 12 jurors does not recommend death, or Judge Michelle Sisco disagrees with their recommendation of death, then Oneal will serve life in prison.
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