• Rod Kackley

Blue Moon Murder Trial! What's the motive: money or witchcraft?

Photo by Cerqueira on Unsplash

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan raised the possibility of a witchcraft-linked ritualistic murder timed to the appearance of a blue moon when an elderly woman and her two adult sons were found dead.

However, prosecutors in a Florida courtroom told a jury Jan. 21 that the actual motive was much more mundane: money.

Donald Wayne Hartung Sr. faces three counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the deaths of his 77-year-old mother, Voncile Smith, and his two stepbrothers, John William Smith, 49, and Richard Thomas Smith, 47.

Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen told the jury in her opening argument that Donald viciously killed his mother and stepbrothers by bashing in their heads with a hammer and then slitting their throats. But she said the killing happened not because of witchcraft, but because Donald didn’t want to split the inheritance following their mother’s death.

Jensen also explained another angle on the money motive: Voncile wrote Donald out of her will. He wasn’t going to get a penny. But it wasn’t because she was upset with Donald but rather because Voncile didn’t think he needed the money, while his brothers did.

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