Florida man facing death penalty in murders of mother, brothers

January 29, 2020

BY COURT TV STAFF

UPDATED 1/29/20: A jury found Donald Hartung guilty of three counts of first-degree murder. He now faces the death penalty for the 2015 murders of his mother, Voncile Smith, and two half-brothers, John and Richard Smith. The penalty phase of Hartung’s trial will begin Monday, February 3.

 

ORIGINAL STORY: 

A Florida man dubbed the ‘Blue Moon Killer‘ is facing the death penalty in the 2015 murders of his mother and two younger brothers.

 

63-year-old Donald Wayne Hartung is accused of murdering 77-year-old Voncile Smith, 47-year-old John Smith and 49-year-old Richard Smith in what was once believed to be a ritualistic killing. Hartung allegedly stabbed each victim in their throat, struck them with a hammer and buried them under piles of clothes on July 28, 2015. Their bodies were found three days later inside the home the three victims shared.

When authorities initially contacted Hartung, he reportedly did not deny he saw the victims the evening they were killed. He said Tuesdays were a routine dinner visit with his mother and brothers. Neighbors told authorities it was normal to see Hartung at the home on Tuesdays, however this time he drove away late at night with no headlights.

Escambia County Sheriff’s Office

On July 31, authorities conducted a search of Hartung’s home and found puzzling evidence. They reportedly discovered clothes Hartung was wearing during the alleged crime, the possible murder weapons and a Wiccan/Pagan “worship room.” Because of the leaked evidence and the July 31 Blue Moon, news outlets dubbed Hartung the ‘Blue Moon Killer.’

However, further investigation reportedly revealed the killings may have been financially motivated. A co-worker of Hartung told police the defendant stated he would inherit his mother’s assets because he was the eldest living heir, according to investigators. An estate attorney for Voncile Smith reportedly confirmed Hartung was not in his mother’s will, but he would receive everything because there were no other surviving family members.

Hartung was arrested Oct. 27, 2015. He’s facing three counts of first-degree premeditated murder with a weapon. If convicted, he could potentially be sentenced to death.

TIMELINE:

2015

  • July 28: Voncile Smith, John Smith and Richard Smith are killed inside their Pensacola home.
  • July 31: The bodies of the three victims are found during a welfare check. Police question Hartung and conduct a search of his home.
  • Aug. 3: Authorities interview Hartung’s coworker, Mark Bailey.
  • Aug. 10: Authorities interview Voncile Smith’s estate attorney.
  • Oct. 14: An autopsy report declares the victims’ death as homicide.
  • Oct. 27: Hartung arrested.
  • Nov. 10: Hartung indicted by a grand jury on three counts of first-degree premeditated murder.

 

2017

  • Aug. 15: Hartung’s attorneys argue motions to suppress any mention of the defendant’s religion or his mother’s will. The judge later denies the motions.

2019

  • June 13: Defense files motion to disqualify Judge Dannheisser.
  • Dec. 9: Defense files third notice of intent to present expert testimony of mental mitigation.

2020

  • Jan. 8: Court order finds Hartung competent to stand trial.
  • Jan. 13: Jury selection for FL v. Donald Hartung, Sr. begins.
  • Jan. 21: Trial begins.
    • Both sides deliver opening statements
    • First deputies dispatched to scene describe the discovery of bodies
    • Crime scene technician walks through photos of the crime scene
    • Crime scene technician’s record of stealing opiates from evidence locker nearly overshadows her testimony
    • Defense tries to undermine the state’s forensic evidence by getting crime scene technician to concede there’s no way to know how long items containing the defendant’s DNA were sitting in a trash can

 

  • Jan. 22:  Day 2
    • Surveillance footage offers fleeting glimpses of victims John Smith and Richard Smith alive as they left their respective jobs (Walmart and DHS office at Pensacola NAS) one last time before they were killed
    • Jurors see photos of the inside of defendant’s Donald Hartung’s home, including the so-called worship room with relics, books about witchcraft and a Ouija board
    • Prosecutors introduce videos and testimony from Richard Smith’s coworkers to support their theory that the victims were killed the afternoon/early evening of July 28, 2015
    • Crime scene technicians and investigators offer no forensic evidence linking Donald Hartung to the crime scene EXCEPT for a pair of his shoes and areas of his home that tested positive for the presumptive presence of blood
    • Crime scene technician concedes on cross that the presumptive test does not say whose blood it was and that material such as animal blood, cleaning supplies or certain vegetables could yield the same positive result
  • Jan. 23: Day 3
    • Jurors watch recordings of two voluntary statements the defendant gave to police within 24 hours of the discovery of the bodies
    • A next-door neighbor says he saw Hartung leave the house after his brother Richard Smith returned home on the alleged night of the murders, contradicting Hartung’s claim that he did not see Richard on July 28, 2015
    • Cell phone records show last outgoing call from victim Richard Smith’s personal cell was 6:46 p.m. on July 28, 2015

 

  • Jan. 24: Day 4
    • Jailhouse informant Marlin Purifoy says Donald Hartung confessed to killing his family and provided details that only law enforcement knew, and some they didn’t know
    • Defendant’s son corroborates some of Purifoy’s testimony
    • Victim’s lawyer confirms no provisions made for Hartung in his mother’s will
  • Jan. 27: Day 5
    • State rests Monday afternoon following testimony of medical examiner and Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement crime lab analyst
    • Hartung’s lawyer calls Wiccan minister and police procedures consultant as first two defense witnesses
  • Jan. 28: Day 6
    • Defense rests after calling seven witnesses, including five on Tuesday
    • Defense forensic pathologist offers an alternative estimated date of death that falls 24-36 hours after defendant says he last saw victims in the home
    • Judge shuts down defense attempt to elicit expert testimony that would have undermined DNA results
    • State calls one rebuttal witness to correct her prior testimony about blood found on the hammer
  • Jan. 29: Day 7
    • Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen delivers the State’s closing argument
    • Defense attorney Michael Griffith delivers the closing argument for the defendant
    • The jury has the option of convicting Donald Wayne Hartung of first-degree murder, Second-degree murder or manslaughter.

 

 

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