Update: The Wiccan Dagger Murder

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 25, 2010 — 11 Comments

On Tuesday I was complaining that police officials and local media seemed to be ignoring the voices of the Pagan community in the case of Angela Sanford, an Albuquerque resident who used her ritual blade (athame) to kill Joel Leyva, allegedly in self-defense after an attempted sexual assault. Well, that’s all changed, local television station KRQE interviews Wiccan Linda Owl, and she isn’t happy.

“That excuse is not sitting well with other Wiccans. Linda Owl, a local practicing Wiccan, said Sanford is using the Wiccan religion as an excuse for her actions on Monday. Owl says a Wiccan would never use a ritual dagger as a weapon. “A dagger like this,” Owl told News 13 as she held her own 12-inch long dagger. “Would be blessed and cleansed in rituals and (to use it as a weapon) it would be so wrong.” Wiccans, according to Owl, place heavy symbolism on items like candles and necklaces. None of those items were part of Sanford’s ritual.”

I don’t know about you, but if I felt truly threatened, I’d be tempted to use a consecrated blade in my defense. I also find it problematic that Ms. Owl is taking the “she was doing it wrong” defense, especially considering the wide variety of eclectic practice in modern Wicca. Still, at least the press is talking to local Pagans. Meanwhile, APD Chief Ray Schultz, recovering from his “solstice” gaffe, has been inundated with calls from Wiccans, and is clarifying his department’s stance on Sanford’s religion.

“Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said his detectives are trying learn more about the religion Sanford claims to practice. “Our detectives are trying to educate themselves and I know we have some community members of the Wiccan [practice] who have offered to share information with us about what the religion is and is not,” said Schultz. Schultz said he’s getting a lot of e-mails and phone calls from the Wiccan community in New Mexico and across the country stressing that murder and violence are not part of their beliefs.Schultz said Sanford’s Wiccan connections are not confirmed.”We’ve been very clear from the beginning [that] the offender, Ms. Sanford, is a self-proclaimed Wiccan. We’ve never said we’ve been able to directly link her to any Wiccan society. That’s just her telling us that,” Schultz said.”

Let it not be said that speaking up doesn’t work. The tone of the religion angle to this story has completely changed in the course of 48 hours, and may very well affect how this case is prosecuted.

Here in the comments section of The Wild Hunt, a local Albuquerque Pagan has come forward to give some insight into how the community has been reacting to this situation, and also noting that Sanford is “unknown” to the larger community.

“There is doubt in the local community that this person is Wiccan, not only because this incident happened at all, but also because it involved a (in the great words of the Abq Journal again) “Wicca ceremonial dagger” [sic] and she said the holiday was Beltane. For whatever its worth (which may not be much), the suspect is unknown in the larger local pagan community.”

Also of note is that an alleged former boyfriend of Sanford’s has come forward saying that there is no way she could have murdered Leyva in cold blood.

“Angela was my ex girlfriend. She did not murder him. It had to be self defense. She had a phobia about men after being raped. I went to that area where she stabbed that guy with her many times. She is not that kind of person. She raised her daughter and her nephew. That guy had to of done something to her to cause her to do such a thing.”

It should be noted that no one really knows what happened between Sanford and Leyva, and despite the inconsistencies in Sanford’s story, it very well could be a case of self-defense, or at least a trauma-related break from reality. Either scenario could explain the discrepancies between the collected evidence and her statement to police. So let’s remember that she’s innocent until proven guilty, and not be too quick to pass judgment from incomplete press reports and police statements. Let’s keep our criticisms to how the press and law enforcement are handling this case, and not focus overmuch on if Sanford was being ritually correct, or using the proper terminology.

Jason Pitzl-Waters