Post by Graveyardbride on Jan 25, 2020 14:59:17 GMT -5
Witnesses Testify in ‘Witchcraft’ Trial
While awaiting trial in the Escambia County jail, self-proclaimed Wiccan and accused murderer Donald Hartung (above) befriended a fellow inmate. Marlin Purifoy has been convicted of attempted murderer and sentenced to 30 years and on Friday, January 24, appeared in court to testify against Hartung. Purifoy said Hartung told him he killed his family because he wanted his mother’s money and that the Defendant had been planning the murders for three years, but did not act until the Ouija board let him know the time was right.
According to Purifoy, Hartung hit John Smith in the head with a hammer while he [Smith] was watching TV and then slit his throat. He also admitted torturing his mother while attempting to force her to give him the code to a safe, cutting off her pinkie finger in the process. Then, he hit her in the head with the hammer and slit her throat. After dispatching John and Voncile “Bonnie” Smith, he waited for Richard “RT” Smith, whom he shot in the ear, however, the gunshot didn’t kill his half-brother, who tried to defend himself. Once Smith was subdued, Hartung proceeded to slit his throat. Hartung then cleaned out the safe in his mother’s closet and changed clothes, telling Purifoy he gave the clothing to a Wiccan priest. Hartung also told Purifoy he was going to try several defenses when his case came to trial.
Purifoy also told the court Hartung gave him a list of books on Wicca to check out at the jail library, adding that other inmates were afraid of Hartung because they thought he was a witch.
Sharon Wilson, one of Hartung’s defense attorneys, cross-examined Purifoy, citing inconsistences in his court testimony, which, she said, differed from what he had said during deposition.
The state then called Jessica Bohon, who testified that during the probate of the Smith estate, she found a safe at the bottom of Bonnie Smith’s closet.
The next witness was Wayne Wright, who works as liaison between the state attorney’s and sheriff’s offices. Wright said he located the high Wiccan priest Purifoy mentioned in his testimony near Nine Mile Road, however, the individual said he not know Hartung. Wright also brought the hammer believed to have been the murder weapon.
S.A. Roddenbury, the attorney who prepared Voncile Smith’s will, testified that Mrs. Smith intentionally omitted Hartung as a beneficiary because she believed he already had sufficient assets.
The state then called Mark Bailey, a former co-worker of Hartung’s at Sacred Heart Hospital. (Hartung worked as a security guard at the hospital.) Bailey said the Defendant had a strained relationship with his half-brothers and told him this stemmed from financial issues.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst William Black analyzed the bullet jacket found at the Smith home and confirmed it was from a 9mm Ruger.
Donald Hartung Jr., the son of Donald Hartung, testified that he found out about the deaths of his grandmother and two uncles from his father. “He said, ‘Son, they’re all dead. Your grandmother, RT and John, they’re all gone.’ He also told the court his father was the “black sheep” of the family.
Earlier in the week, Andrew Smith, a former deputy sheriff who was the first to respond to the Smith home on July 31, 2015, testified that when he contacted Hartung for permission to enter the home, the Defendant appeared calm and relaxed. Upon entering the house, Smith immediately detected what smelled like a corpse and saw blood spatter. He found RT and John Smith in the living room area beneath piles of clothing. Bonnie Smith was on the floor of one of the bedrooms.
Hal McCord, Richard Smith’s supervisor at the Department of Homeland Security, took the stand next and told the court it was unusual for Richard not to appear for work and he was afraid his employee might have had a medical emergency. He drove to the Smith home on Deerfield Road, rang the doorbell several times, but there was no response. “I knew something was wrong when the EMS arrived and they all looked like they had seen a ghost,” he recalled. “I knew there was a problem. That was clear.” McCord gave the police Hartung’s information.
When Christine Rollins, a crime scene technician, was called to the stand, she remembered there were two cars parked in the driveway of the Smith home and four QVC packages on the front porch. (Mrs. Smith was allegedly a compulsive shopping addict.) Rollins described several crime scene photographs showing the bodies covered in blankets, rugs and clothing, as though someone had attempted to hide them. There were other photos of the bodies covered in blood. John Smith’s corpse was sitting in a chair and that of RT Smith was on the floor of the same room. Bonnie Smith – who had been hit in the head eight times – was face-down on the floor of John’s room. There was blood in the hallway and on furniture, Rollins testified, and bloody paper towels were discovered in a trash can inside the house.
Court will reconvene at 9 a.m., Monday, January 27.
Sources: Samiel Smithson, WKRG, January 24, 2020; WKRG, January 21, 2020; and CourtTV.
Post by Graveyardbride on Feb 13, 2020 0:57:14 GMT -5
‘Witchcraft’ Murders: Hartung Gets Three Life Sentences
It took the jury just a little more than four hours to find Donald Hartung, 63, guilty of the July 2015 murders of his mother and two half-brothers. The verdict was read at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, January 29.
The penalty phase of the trial began Thursday (February 6) and the three first witnesses – called by the state – testified concerning the lives of Voncile, John and Richard “RJ” Smith and how their deaths affected those who knew them.
Faye Haas, Voncile Smith’s niece, took the stand and told she had idolized her “Aunt Bonnie,” saying, “Outside beauty fades with age but not inside beauty – a good heart. Her beauty never faded in my eyes,” she declared, adding she would never forget her aunt’s hugs, laughter and Southern drawl. “Everybody was ‘sugar,’ ‘honey,’ ‘sweetie,’ all those Southern slang words,” Haas fondly recalled. “She always made someone feel special, no matter who you were.”
Audrey Dewey worked with John Smith for almost 20 years, from the time they were hired within one day of each other at Walmart on Mobile Highway. He was “the little brother of the original group” at the store, she testified. “Every year during Christmas, he would give out cute little holiday pins. I have all mine on a hat,” Dewey said, her words punctuated by pauses to dab at her face as her eyes filled with tears. “Every year when I take it out, I think of John – the big teddy bear of a guy that he was.”
Tammy Duncan, a co-worker of Richard Smith’s at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke of his love for University of Alabama sports, remembering his office walls covered in Crimson Tide memorabilia. She told the jury he got up every morning at 5 o’clock to ensure his brother was ready for work at 7, before preparing for his own workday. “He gave up his personal life for the sake of his family,” Duncan testified. She also recalled RJ’s once confiding to a friend that “he wanted it all: marriage, children, a home of his own. But he knew it was his responsibility to take care of his parents and his brother John.”
In closing arguments, Sharon Wilson, the defense attorney, told members of the jury they should disregard any references to the Wiccan religion because the murders had no connection to Wicca. She also attempted to convince the men and women who had found her client guilty that he was mentally unbalanced when he committed the murders. “You’ve been shown pictures of Hartung’s brain,” she emphasized, displaying scans of her client’s brain and pointing to differences between his frontal lobes and those of a properly-functioning human being. She also asked that the jury remember the forensic neurologist whom the defense had called earlier during the penalty phase, and reminded them Hartung suffered from frontotemporal dementia, an indication he was “mentally and emotionally disturbed” at the time of the murders. The condition causes degeneration of the frontal lobes of the brain and impacts cognitive function. “You can see white spots on his brain that should not be there,” she continued, noting the condition can affect a person’s decision-making ability. She also implored the jury consider that Hartung was abandoned by his father when he was 3-months-old, experienced sexual abuse as a child and grew up “incubated” in a trauma-filled environment. She cited her client’s diagnoses of depression and detachment disorder as mitigating factors.
Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen countered, telling the jury the state did not deny Hartung suffered from frontotemporal dementia, but disagreed with the level of impairment the defense lawyer suggested. “He took these three people,” she said, holding up photos of the deceased, “and he turned them into those autopsy photos that you have in evidence.” Jensen argued the murders were perpetrated in such a meticulously-planned manner they demonstrated a strong mental state, noting the defendant was clearheaded enough to cook dinner and hide evidence to cover up his crime. “Some of you may think that life without parole is worse than the death penalty,” she added. “But if life without parole was worse than the death penalty, then the defense would not be asking for it.”
After almost two days of testimony, the jury recommended life imprisonment and Judge Thomas Dannheisser sentenced Hartung to life in prison for each of the three murders.
Sources: Colin Warren-Hicks, The Pensacola News-Journal, January 29, 2020, and Bryant Clerkley and Daniel Smithson, WKRG, January 29, 2020.
These murders were premeditated. He went there that night with the intention of killing his family, cooked dinner for them, then tortured his mother by cutting her finger off. He should have gotten death, not life.