Should Fatal Encounters Fill in the Blanks on Witchcraft Slaying?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 26, 2012 — 10 Comments

Through 2010, and into the beginning of 2011, I covered the case of Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Leyva in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice. While Sanford initially said the killing was in self-defense after Leyva tried to rape her, that story started to unravel when evidence surfaced that the violent encounter may have been premeditated. Ultimately, Sanford plead no contest to second-degree murder, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now, the story is being dramatized for the show Fatal Encounters on the Investigation Discovery (ID) cable network, and local press are worried that ID may be stretching the truth to make good TV.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Leyva.

“A mysterious Albuquerque murder that may have been a sacrifice is about to be featured on a national TV show. But did the show stretch the truth in the murder of Joel Leyva? [...] Leyva and Angela Sanford met at the Downs Casino a few days before his murder. No one knows what the two talked about but the show tries to fill in the blanks.  “It’s believed the conversation soon takes an unexpected turn when Angela tells Joel that she is a practicing Wiccan,” the shows announcer said.”

However, according to KASA reporter Alex Tomlin, sources say Leyva was never informed about Sanford’s religion, and that their arranged meeting was about sex, not a chaste and friendly hike as the program portrays it. Leyva, in the preview clip, is portrayed as something close to a Christian minister who loved the outdoors and doted on his children. The only interview shown is with Leyva’s brother, who reinforces that image. But all reports from the time center on sex, the only real question was if it was consensual or not. That Mr. Leyva may have allegedly wanted to hook up with Sanford doesn’t in any way excuse his murder, but I find it problematic that the show is already traveling down the road of whitewashing the narrative to make it more dramatic. It makes one wonder what other facts or standing assumptions from the investigation they will play fast-and-loose with.

The problem with the Angela Sanford case is that nobody really knows, except for Sanford herself, the truth of that day. Considering the mental state of Sanford, that she stabbed him repeatedly, was a rape survivor who had a phobia about men according to one ex-boyfriend, and listed Leyva as a “sacrifice” on her phone, even she may not know the truth of that time. Also concerning is how Sanford’s religion will be worked into the narrative. The Fatal Encounters site links to a an explanation of “white magic or Wicca” from one of their supernatural-themed programs that sounds like it was written in the 1970s.

“Christianity tolerated the old pagan ways for hundreds of years, and it was not seen as something evil, but just another type of faith. During the Middle Ages, the church began to turn against the pagan faith and the word “witch” became a derogatory term. If a child died, if an animal became ill or if crops failed, the local witch was blamed. Witches were accused of devil worship and black magic, and thousands of people, mostly women, were tried for witchcraft. Many confessed under torture and were hanged or burned at the stake.

The first Witchcraft Act was passed in England in 1542 and wasn’t repealed until 1951. Today Wicca is described as a neo-pagan religion, and white witches observe the old religion of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. They believe that the power of magic comes from focusing their attention and suggest that spirits can intervene with their consciousness. There is no central authority and witches, male and female, sometimes belong to a coven, but can worship alone.”

This does not fill me with confidence. Will they portray Sanford as a fallen or corrupted “white Witch,” and the murder as a ritualistic sacrifice? What experts on the religion did they interview? Will they explore the fact that some local Pagans doubted that Sanford was Wiccan at allI suppose we’ll have to wait until April 30th when the program airs to find out.

Programs like these can create damaging narratives in search of a “thrilling” murder story, upping the contrasts and the drama for the viewer’s entertainment, until the true events are obscured even further. I hope that isn’t the case here, because the last thing our community needs is people thinking that “Wiccan sacrifices,” just like the ones recently dreamed up by Catholic columnist Christina Odone, are real, and not simply the sad result of an unbalanced mind.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://twitter.com/andyt267 andy taylor

    Tolerated? how kind.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    It makes my skin crawl to have to be concerned about this kind of trash TV but, if it’s going to sully our community, we do have to respond.

  • Obsidia

    Personally, I don’t think these kinds of TV program are helpful in any way.  If I were a lawyer, I would say this could sully the case!  This influences public opinion and for that reason, yes, we should respond to it.  But these kinds of programs themselves are vampiric, sucking the energy that needs to be used for justice’s sake.

  • phatkhat

    If you take a lot of the things being said and done right now, from the Catholics dedicating more money and manpower to exorcisms, the emphasis on “spiritual warfare”, and stuff like this, it seems to me that the rightwing Christians are trying to create another Satanic Panic. I just saw a perfectly straight reference to that Warnecke (sp?) fraud the other day, as though the debunking never happened. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1315448416 Aepril Schaile

    Thank you for being so vigilant about what’s out there. You keep me informed, and I appreciate that. Blessings. 

  • Kilmrnock

    I personaly don’t think they should . That situation is enough of a mess without being sensationalised for dramatic effect and filling in the blanks w/ fiction is even worse .The biggest problem i see with this whole thing is these types of programs tend to inform public opinions on not only Wiccans , but the Pagan community as a whole . In my opinion the program itself is a bad idea. We as a community have enough problems with our image to the general public without these types of programs making it worse.Just what we need now . The RR  is stiring anti pagan sentiments , we don’t need the media helping them and even using their twisted quotes .     Kilm

  • zendodeb

    “Saint Olaf” was killing people who wouldn’t convert to Christianity (and assorted torture) in and around 995 Common Era. So I don’t know where they get this 1500 number.

  • zendodeb

     Oh, England. As if the rest of Europe didn’t count.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/73WYVJX4ZTBEQFVISYU74QIXZ4 Cathryn

     There is no possible way this can do any good.  I wish there were a way to enjoin them from using the word “Wicca” at all.

    Cathryn Meer Bauer

  • Kilmrnock

    Zen , i just reread the section of the article , it states 1542 as when the first anti witchcraft laws were passed in England , not when torture first occured . The ” Burning Times ” started before that time as well. I don’t like the tolarated remark either .      Kilm