Jury to Determine if “Blue Moon” Killer Will Be Sentenced to Death

A Florida jury found Donald Hartung guilty of three counts of first-degree murder earlier this month and will now decide if Hartung should live the rest of his life behind bars or be sentenced to die for his crimes. Hartung was convicted of killing his mother, Voncile Smith (77), and two of his half-brothers, Richard Thomas Smith, 47, and John William Smith, 49, in their home in 2015.

The prosecution will begin presenting evidence that Hartung deserves to die for his crimes. His defense attorney will argue that Hartung deserves life behind bars.

How Do Death Penalty Trials Work?

Trials involving the death penalty require two separate hearings. One is to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty or innocent. The other is to determine whether there are enough aggravating factors to warrant a sentence of death.

In these cases, prosecutors present aggravating factors to the jury to argue in favor of the death penalty while the defense provides evidence of mitigating factors that may be used to argue in favor of life imprisonment. Ultimately, the jury must decide unanimously to execute the defendant for his crimes.

It used to be that you only needed a supermajority (10 of 12) to sentence a criminal defendant to death, but the law was changed in 2017 after the Supreme Court struck down provisions of the existing law passed by then-governor Rick Scott.

In Hartung’s case, the prosecution will call three witnesses who will read victim impact statements before the jury. The defense will call at least one medical expert to testify on Hartung’s behalf.

If the jury returns with a sentence of death, the judge will then have the ability to override the jury’s sentence if they believe the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors. A judge cannot, however, countermand a sentence of life. If even one juror opposes the death penalty, the defendant will not be put to death.

Why Does Hartung Deserve the Death Penalty?

Richard Smith, one of the half brothers who was murdered by Hartung, worked for the Department of Homeland Security. When he stopped showing up to work, officials were sent to his home to perform a welfare check. They found Smith, his brother, and their mother dead. Richard Smith’s throat had been cut and he had been shot in the head.

At the time, investigators believed that the murders may have been related to a recent “blue moon” because they appeared “ritualistic”. Hence why Hartung was dubbed the blue moon killer. The prosecution argued that Hartung killed his family for financial gain which is one of the aggravating factors that can be used to support a death sentence.

Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’re facing serious charges, then you need an attorney who will protect your right to a fair trial and guarantee a fair outcome. Talk to the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. today for more information on how we can help.



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