Man arrested in triple slaying initially linked to rituals

Author: the associated press
MGN Online

PENSACOLA, Florida (AP) – A Florida man killed his mother and two half brothers in an attack that the local sheriff previously linked to ritualistic practices and the blue moon, authorities said Tuesday.

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said 58-year Donald Hartung Sr. was arrested and will be charged with three counts of first-degree, premeditated murder. State Attorney Bill Eddins said he will seek the death penalty. He said the number of victims was an aggravating factor that warranted capital punishment.

Complicated DNA and other forensic testing caused the three-month lag in arresting Hartung, who was interviewed in the days after the deaths, said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. Because Hartung and the victims are blood relatives, additional testing was required, he said.

“We had no indication he was a danger to our community. We could let the clock run because of the complexity of the investigation,” Morgan said.

Voncile Smith, 77, Richard Smith, 49, and John Smith, 47, died July 31. All three victims were struck multiple times with a claw hammer and their throats were slit. Richard Smith was also shot in his right ear.

Morgan said he previously made a link between the killings and the blue moon because of statements Hartung made to investigators about his ritualistic practices. Authorities also investigated financial motives and any link between the deaths and Richard Smith’s work at the Department of Homeland Security, he said.

Eddins declined to discuss a possible motive on Tuesday.

An attorney for Hartung did not respond to telephone messages left by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

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