Florida man guilty; used claw hammer, knife to kill family

Posted at 10:26 AM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 10:26:30-05

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida man could get a death sentence after being found guilty of using a claw hammer, knife and gun to kill his mother and half-brothers.

Jurors in Pensacola convicted Donald Hartung Sr., 63, on three counts of premeditated, first-degree murder, news outlets reported.

His mother, Voncile Smith, 77, and two half-brothers, John Smith, 49, and Richard Smith, 47, were found dead in their home July 31, 2015. All were struck multiple times with a claw hammer and their throats were slit. Richard Smith was also shot in his right ear.

Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen told jurors Hartung had been written out of his mother's will and believed he would never get the money -- nearly $900,000 -- unless his family members died.

Defense attorney Michael Griffin said his client didn't know about the will and had nothing to hide from law enforcers, who never investigated any other suspect, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

Marlin Purifoy, another inmate who testified in hopes of reducing his own sentence, testified that Hartung confessed to the killings while behind bars.

Hartung told Purifoy that he "tortured his mother by cutting her pinkie in order to get safe combinations," Jensen said. "How can Marlin Purifoy know that? The medical examiner didn't know that."

Purifoy said other inmates feared Hartung because he claimed to have Wiccan beliefs, and that he feigned an interest in voodoo to gain Hartung's confidence before he confessed. Retired professor and ordained Wiccan minister Paul Larson testified Monday that human sacrifices are not a part of modern Wiccans' religious practices.

The case now moves to the penalty phase.