TAMPA, Fla. - The loved ones of a mother and daughter who were brutally murdered in 2018 were in the courtroom when a judge handed down three consecutive life sentences, following the jury’s life in prison decision for the killer.
About one month ago, the jury decided on a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Ronnie Oneal, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their 9-year-old daughter – and attempting to kill his 8-year-old son at their Riverview home. His son testified against him during the murder trial.
Before Judge Michelle Sisco's sentencing, there was emotional testimony by the victim's family.
Kenyatta Barron's mother, Carrie Lloyd, said Oneal stole "angels" from the family, including his daughter, Ron'niveya, who had special needs and could not talk. Lloyd said she was disappointed with the jury's verdict and wanted Oneal to face the death penalty.
She also said Oneal made a mockery of the justice system by representing himself in the double-murder trial and yelling at the jury, as well as blaming Barron for the murders. Lloyd was in tears for most of her testimony.
Oneal, shackled and dressed in a red inmate jumpsuit, then stood to speak. He turned to the gallery, looking at Lloyd, and said he would not apologize for his actions.
"I am not sorry for something I didn't do," he began quietly, before raising his voice to shout, "and I am not sorry for the things I did do!"
The judge admonished him for his tone, telling Oneal she would have him removed from the courtroom if he yelled again. He then lowered his voice once more and continued, "But I will say I'm sorry for your loss. Everybody wants to point fingers and play the blame game without knowing actual facts."
Judge Sisco had Oneal stand and face her as she handed down his sentence.
"Nineteen years I've been at this job, I've seen human beings killed at the hands of others in every way imaginable," she said. "This is the worst case I've ever seen as far as the facts go."
Sisco recalled the testimony of a firefighter, who had carried 9-year-old Ron'niveya's body out of the home.
"When the person from the fire department testified and said he retrieved the body of Ron'niveya Oneal from the home and all he could do was sob, it took every ounce I had not to start sobbing too, because there's no way any person with any feeling could've witnessed or seen the photos of what occurred that night and not be haunted for the rest of your life," the judge said. "I know I will be, for the rest of my life I will be haunted by what I saw as far as the evidence, and just the abject cruelty of it all."
Sisco focused much of her attention on the details surrounding Ron'niveya's death. Prosecutors said Oneal used a hatchet to kill his daughter, who was unable to speak and was born with disabilities.
"She couldn't scream, she couldn't run away, she witnessed what you did to her mother," Sisco said, addressing Oneal directly in the courtroom. "She knew and the horror that that child suffered, and she already had a life where she was born with challenges, regarding her physical and her mental disabilities. But the pain and suffering that she suffered that night at your hands, unspeakable."
The judge became visibly emotional as she described the moment of the little girl's death.
"At the moment, that first time you struck her with that hatchet, and little Ronnie testified all he could see was tears coming out of his sister's face – at that moment, that child knew, she knew she was being betrayed in the cruelest, most tragic and sorrowful way that a child could ever be betrayed. She was being betrayed by her parent, the one person that should be there to protect their children and love them and keep them from harm," Sisco said, her voice tinged with anger. "And that was the last thing that child felt before she passed on from this Earth was your utter, cruel betrayal to her."
She then handed down her sentence, issuing three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the two murder charges and the one attempted murder charge. She then sentenced Oneal to 30 years for arson, and 30 years for each of the two aggravated child abuse charges, for a total of 90 years on top of the life sentences.
Before deciding whether to approve the recommended sentence set by the jury, the judge denied a motion, filed on Oneal’s behalf, requesting a new trial. Oneal claimed he was denied the ability to testify in court.
The motion was drafted by the defense attorney assigned to Oneal for the penalty phase of his trial. Oneal represented himself in court during his trial, at times yelling at jurors as he crafted a defense strategy against disturbing evidence and witness testimony.
An appointed public defender helping in closing arguments asked jurors to spare Oneal and instead send him to prison for life.
During the sentencing phase, a psychologist testified that Oneal was diagnosed with PTSD and delusional disorder. Oneal’s mother, who wanted to protect her identity, also told the jury about a random drive-by shooting that nearly took Oneal’s life just months before the murders.
At least one juror did decide against the death penalty. However, in Florida, jurors must be unanimous in their decision to recommend the death penalty.