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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – A double homicide defendant who acted as his own Florida attorney was convicted of two first degree murder Monday night several hours after yelling at jurors and prosecutors and admitting that he was his then-girlfriend had killed.
A Hillsborough County jury decided after four and a half hours of deliberation on Ronnie Oneal III. The twelve-member panel also found him guilty of attempted first degree murder and arson. The jury will meet again later this week to recommend life imprisonment or the death penalty. According to Florida law, the decision on execution must be made unanimously.
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Oneal admitted during Monday’s closing speeches that he killed Kenyatta Barron but denied allegations of killing his disabled daughter and attempting to kill his son.
“I want you to know the real facts,” he told the jury. Then he turned to the prosecutors and said, “I killed Kenyatta Brown. But I want you to tell it the way it is when you tell it.”
Oneal, 32, was his own lawyer throughout the process. During the closing arguments, Hillsborough Circuit judge Michelle Sisco intervened and warned him not to use swear words.
The defendant spent most of Monday accusing the state of tampering with call logs and recordings for the night of the March 2018 murders. A prosecutor described the allegations as “absurd”.
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Oneal, who cross-examined a sheriff’s detective at the beginning of the trial before thanking him warmly for adopting his son, harshly criticized the move on Monday, suggesting that he had prejudiced his son against it.
“You are ready to believe my son, whose statements are suddenly contradicting himself because he was adopted by a detective who worked on this case,” he told the jury. “He had no place in an open and pending case.”
The detective testified that he was working the night of the attack but was not involved in the investigation.
Prosecutors say Oneal wounded Barron with a shotgun and then beat her to death. They say he killed his 9-year-old daughter with a hatchet and wounded his then 8-year-old son with a knife. The daughter had cerebral palsy and could not speak.
Oneal is also charged with setting fire to the family’s home in Tampa. The son survived and testified via remote video last week that he saw his father kill his sister with the hatchet and recalled his mother being shot. When questioned by Oneal, the boy said to his father, “You stabbed me.”
Prosecutor Ronald Gale said in his closing argument that the state had proven beyond doubt that Oneal was guilty of double homicide and attempted homicide. Gale played a 911 call that included shouts from Barron.
“This was a very emotional case, and the evidence and testimony was alternately cruel and disturbing and just heartbreaking,” said Gale, urging the jury to put those emotions aside and reflect on the facts.