Opening statements set for ‘Witchcraft’ murder trial in Pensacola


You can read more on the background of this developing story here.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — UPDATE (9:55 a.m.): Hartung’s defense attorney told the jury that the prosecution’s opening arguments and case are built on DNA evidence. However, the defense says it’s obvious that Hartung’s DNA would be at the house on Deerfield Drive because he frequently visited. Hartung visited every Tuesday night and cooked his family dinner. The defense says there is no evidence to directly link Hartung to the murder and at the end of the trial, the evidence will show there is no answer to who the murderer is. 

UPDATE: (9:38 a.m.): Donald Hartung did not live with his mother and two brothers at the time.

He had worked as a security guard at Sacred Heart Hospital at the time. As a routine, he went to his mother’s home on Tuesday’s to cook dinner. On Tuesday, July 28, 2015, Hartung went to the home and cooked dinner according to the state. The state says after the family ate, Hartung beat his brother John in the head with a hammer and slashed his throat. The state says Hartung then did the same to his mother. Vonnie was hit in the head 8 times.

When Hartung’s brother Richard got home, Hartung shot him in the ear. Ultimately, the state says Hartung slit his brother Richard’s throat. We are supposed to hear testimony from neighbors. A neighbor says Hartung left the house during twilight according to the state.

The state says on Friday, July 31, 2015, Richard’s work supervisor went out to his home because he had not shown up for work. The supervisor called the sheriff’s office soon after.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m.): The jury trial in the case of Donald Hartung has begun at the Escambia County courthouse. State prosecutors have started their opening statements, alleging Hartung killed his mother Bonnie Smith, and brothers RT Smith and John Smith in 2015.

The state alleges Hartung beat his Bonnie, 78, and John Smith, 47, in the head with a hammer and slit their throats. Prosecutors say Hartung shot RT Smith, 49, in the head and slit his throat. The state says the evidence in the case will prove that Hartung’s alleged killings were motivated by money. Bonnie Smith had intentionally left Hartung out of her will. The only way Hartung would get an inheritance is if all three of them were killed, according to the state.

Prosecutors plan to share with the jury photographs of the killings.

Opening statements are set to begin this morning in the Donald Hartung trial around 9am CST.

Hartung is accused of killing his mother and two half-brothers in 2015. The bodies of Bonnie Smith, John, and R.T. were found inside their on on Deerfield Drive in Pensacola in 2015. At the time of the murders, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan initially believed the crime was motivated by witchcraft. Investigators have since debunked that claim. Family members believe Hartung’s motive was money.

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