A Florida judge has allowed a murder suspect to represent himself at trial and cross-examine witnesses.
Ronnie Oneal III is accused of killing his girlfriend and daughter and of almost killing his son.
The young boy testified against his father on Wednesday, saying, “You stabbed me.
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A murder suspect accused of shooting his girlfriend, hitting his 9-year-old daughter in the head, and then stabbing and setting her son on fire on Wednesday cross-examined the 11-year-old survivor in a breathtaking audience scene.
During televised cross-examination, Ronnie Oneal III, who represented himself at trial, asked his son at one point, “Did I hurt you on the night of this incident?”
The boy, who attended the hearing virtually from a child victimization resource center, replied, “Yes. You stabbed me. “
Oneal is charged with two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the 2018 incident just south of Tampa, Florida. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, told jurors his son had seen nothing, and accused police of instigating the boy to charge him.
Oneal had previously made a fiery and moving opening statement, pacing the courtroom and shouting accusations of tampering with evidence.
“We are under one of the most vicious, lying, fictitious and fictitious governments you have ever seen,” he said. “By the time all is said and done, you will see who the mass murderers are in Tampa Bay.”
Defendants have the right to represent themselves – but experts say they probably shouldn’t
Legal experts suggest that Oneal’s cross-examination will backfire. Many people try to defend themselves in court, but they usually do so in civil or tort cases, not murder trials.
One notable exception was serial killer Ted Bundy, who confidently represented himself at trial but was convicted. He then confessed to around 30 murders before his execution in 1989.
Defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon served as deputy counsel for convict “DC Sniper” John Allen Muhammad, who represented himself on six counts of murder in 2006. He said some defendants, such as Muhammad, often feel a sense of empowerment and equality. by taking charge of their own file.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t recommend it,” Gordon said. “It’s not a good idea.”
Jona Goldschmidt of Loyola University in Chicago told Insider that the challenges defendants face against experienced prosecutors are often overwhelming, and judges often let them “crash and burn” without help.
He added that there is little data available on how often self-advocacy is common among criminal defendants in state courts, let alone their success when they choose to forgo lawyers. But limited data from federal cases shows that self-represented defendants are much more likely to be convicted at trial.
“Especially in a complex case, the chances of them succeeding are slim to none,” Goldschmidt said.
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