An 11-year-old Florida boy testified against his own father on Wednesday, emotionally describing how he witnessed Ronnie Oneal III kill his mom and disabled sister in 2018 before stabbing him and setting their house on fire.
“My dad killed my mom,” Ronnie Jr., who was just 8 when he survived the grisly attack, told jurors via video conference at his father’s murder trial in Tampa on Wednesday.
With an emotional therapy dog at his side, the boy was cross-examined by his father, who is representing himself in his trial. Oneal repeatedly asked his son questions about his previous statements, and noted to jurors how they did not line up with his Wednesday testimony.
“Did I hurt you the night of this incident,” Oneal asked his son. “Yes. You stabbed me,” his son replied.
Prosecutors say Oneal shot his girlfriend, 33-year-old Kenyatta Barron, on March 18, 2018, then beat her to death with the shotgun when he ran out of bullets. The 32-year-old then allegedly used an ax to kill their 9-year-old daughter, Ron’Niveya Oneal, before stabbing Ronnie Jr. and setting their Riverview house on fire in a gruesome attack that garnered national attention.
Ronnie Jr. was so badly injured that he appeared to be “disemboweled,” one investigator testified Thursday. But he recovered and was able to bravely give evidence against his father.
Oneal, however, has argued that it was Barron who killed their daughter and attacked their son. He said that he was forced to kill her in self-defense.
“The evidence is going to show that law enforcement tampered with evidence to meet their high burden of proof because originally it wasn't enough so [they] had to tamper with evidence,” Oneal yelled to jurors on Monday during his bizarre opening statement in which he also claimed the case against him was fabricated.
On Wednesday, Ronnie Jr. recounted to jurors the murders, stating he first heard his mom and dad arguing in their bedroom, prompting him to get out of bed to see what was going on. He said his mother told him to go back to bed—but not before “I saw my dad holding a shotgun.”
“My mom ran into my sister’s room into the closet,” Ronnie Jr. said, noting that he had seen the shotgun that was usually under his parent’s bed before. He said that his dad quickly ran after his mom into the room, where his sister—whom he said had autism and sometimes used a wheelchair—was sitting on the bed.
“My dad told me to walk around and say some words, ‘Allah Akbar,’” he said, adding that afterward, Oneal told him to come into the room and kill his mother. He said his father made him hold the shotgun with him as Oneal fired a shot. It is not clear if Barron was hit with that shot.
Soon after, Ronnie Jr. testified that his father asked him to get a hunting knife from the garage, which he said he couldn’t find. During his search, the boy said he saw someone run outside, who he now believes was his mother.
He said that Oneal chased his mom outside. Prosecutors believe he then fatally beat her so hard on their neighbor’s doorstep that the shotgun—which was shown in court—broke into pieces and had its barrel bent. Afterward, Ronnie Jr. said that his father came back inside and grabbed an ax before grabbing his sister and dragging her into the master bedroom.
“He hit her in the back of the head with the ax,” Ronnie Jr. said. After his dad allegedly killed his sister, he said Oneal lit something with a match before dousing the house in gasoline.
During cross-examination, Ronnie Jr. admitted he did not physically see his father kill anyone. He insisted, however, that he heard and saw enough to know what was going on.
“You did hear a shot that night, is that correct,” Oneal asked the boy, who responded that he did because he was standing nearby. Ronnie Jr., however, admitted he did not know where his mother was shot despite previously describing her wounds to authorities.
The 11-year-old told jurors that he soon escaped from the house. Authorities said he was found by police after a neighbor called for help. He had stumbled out of a neighbor’s garage with several stab wounds and burns, police said.
“He appeared to have been disemboweled,” Hillsborough Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Tagliarini testified on Tuesday, adding that the boy was immediately transported to the hospital. Ronnie Jr. said he remembers waking up in the hospital with a tube in his throat.
Donald Foster, a Hillsborough County firefighter who responded to the scene and entered the burning house, described to jurors that he realized the floors were “covered in blood” after he slipped while trying to make his way through the blaze. Barron had already been found outside the house and was immediately pronounced dead.
“So I kind of felt around and tried to see if I could locate a patient [inside the house]," Foster testified on Tuesday. “There was nothing. There were knives strewn all over the floor. It looked like someone had taken a knife drawer and poured it on the floor.”
Foster said that as he continued to feel around the house, he found Ron’Niveya’s body under a pile of debris.
“I thought I had found a patient,” he said. “The room was hot enough that it probably wouldn’t have supported life. But it wasn’t my goal to assess whether the person was alive or not.”
Foster said he took Ron’Niveya out of the house and put her on the front lawn. Realizing the severity of the scene, Foster said he immediately “hugged my other firefighter and cried.”