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Sloppy Pensacola Ritual Killing Trial Limps Toward Starting Line

In 2015, Irregular Times covered the false claims made by Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan that a murder in Pensacola, Florida had been committed with telltale signs of Wiccan ritual.

Morgan’s initial claims, made with certitude, quickly were exposed as nonsense. The sheriff claimed that the victims, Voncile Smith and her adult sons Richard Smith and John Smith, were killed on a the day of a Blue Moon, but they weren’t. Their bodies were found on that day, but they had been murdered days earlier. Sheriff Morgan claimed that there is a Wiccan tradition of ritual killing on Blue Moons, but there is no such tradition. He claimed that the bodies of the victims were arranged in a ritual fashion, but later police reports contradicted those claims. Morgan said that the method of killing suggested a magic ritual slaying, but the methods of killing commonly occur outside of any ritual context.

When Sheriff Morgan’s claims about the case started to fall apart, he never admitted that he had made up his story. He simply stopped talking to journalists about the Smith murders, though his initial assertions of witchcraft were made at a press conference designed to gain widespread coverage. Sheriff Morgan had promised that he would speak again to journalists once the results of forensic tests were made available, but he didn’t follow through on that promise.

National news organizations that had breathlessly repeated the initial claims of a ritual killing never reported on the evidence that the allegations were false. Instead of admitting that they had spread sensationalistic nonsense, journalists simply pretended that they had never written about the supposed Blue Moon killings of Pensacola in the first place.

Sheriff David Morgan and his journalistic dupes were quick to rush to judgment, but the subsequent process of justice taken on by prosecutors has been very slow. Donald Hartung, a son of Voncile Smith, was arrested and charged with three counts of premeditated 1st degree murder in October of 2015. Hartung entered a plea of not guilty two months later. It was suggested last year that Hartung’s trial would begin in July 2016, but there’s still no trial date set.

The next court date in the case of The State of Florida v. Donald Wayne Hartung will take place in a few weeks, on July 12, when some legal motions will be filed in the case.

There has been no word about whether the prosecutorial team plans to resurrect Sheriff Morgan’s allegations about Wiccan magic Blue Moon ritual involvement in the crime.

Not even the local media in Pensacola has written about the case in a very long time.

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