TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida jury recommended life in prison without parole for a man convicted of killing his girlfriend and special-needs daughter and trying to kill his son.
The jurors deliberated in Tampa about three hours to decide whether to impose the life sentence or the death penalty on Ronnie Oneal III in the 2018 murders.
A death penalty had to be recommended unanimously by the 12-person jury, but at least one juror objected, leading to the life sentence. Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco must follow that recommendation, but put off formal sentencing until July 23.
Oneal, 32, smiled and nodded to family members as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after the jury recommendation was announced.
Oneal represented himself during the guilt portion of the trial, frequently yelling and gesturing in the courtroom. He had public defenders handle the penalty phase.
Jurors convicted Oneal on Monday of two counts of first-degree murder for the killings of his girlfriend, Kenyatta Barron, and their 9-year-old daughter who had cerebral palsy and autism and was unable to speak.
Barron was wounded with a shotgun blast and then beaten to death, trial evidence showed. The young girl was killed with a hatchet.
Oneal was also convicted of attempted murder for stabbing his son, then 8, and of arson for setting fire to their house. The boy survived and testified against his father.
During the penalty phase, Oneal family members testified against the death penalty. They said he had been sexually abused as a child by relatives and that he was profoundly affected after he was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Tampa.
He also played high school football, was in his school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program and held steady jobs, they testified. He later joined a Nation of Islam group that advocated against violence.
“Ronnie Oneal is more than the worst thing he’s ever done,” said Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Spradley in a closing argument Friday. “He’s a human being who’s committed a horrible crime. But his life is worthy of mercy.”
Prosecutors had pushed hard for the death penalty, repeatedly describing the horrific nature of the crimes he committed. Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon focused at one point on what happened to the 9-year-old special needs daughter.
“She wouldn’t have been able to say ‘daddy, stop, please stop.’ She was completely and totally helpless and at the mercy of that defendant,” Harmon said.