Everett, USA - Prosecutors in Everett, Wash., say a Gold Bar man murdered his former girlfriend last month because she broke a "Wiccan blood oath" to break off a relationship with another man.
Eric Christensen, 40, was charged Jan. 29 in Snohomish County Superior Court with first-degree murder in the slaying of 35-year-old Sherry Harlan. On Monday, Christensen entered a not guilty plea and remains jailed on $5 million bail. His trial is set to begin March 19.
Prosecutors say Harlan's body was cut up and left in various locations in the area.
"Both Christensen and Harlan were members of the Wiccan church, and Christensen had Ms. Harlan enter into this blood oath in December 2009, promising not to see this other fellow -- her sugar daddy," Craig Matheson, Snohomish County senior deputy prosecutor, told AOL News. "She promised to do that during the course of this oath that was witnessed by another Wiccan."
Representatives of the Wiccan community have reacted strongly to what they say is a misguided rationalization for the slaying involving practices that are not condoned by the religion.
Harlan was reported missing Jan. 5 when she failed to show for work. When police questioned her friends, they said they were concerned for her safety because she had recently told them she was worried that Christensen would "beat her to a bloody pulp" if she broke up with him, police said.
Christensen's public defender, Kathleen Kyle, did not return calls for comment.
When authorities searched Harlan's apartment in south Everett, they found signs of a violent struggle and evidence that someone had attempted to clean the unit with bleach. Investigators then obtained a search warrant for Christensen's apartment, where they found a pair of shoes that allegedly match a bloody footprint found in Harlan's apartment. They also confiscated a pair of blood-stained jeans.
While it was clear something terrible had happened inside Harlan's apartment, police did not have a body, and both she and her vehicle were missing. In an effort to get Christensen off the streets while they continued their investigation, police took him into custody for failing to register as a sex offender. Prosecutors say he had a 1990 conviction in Oregon for first-degree sexual abuse.
"Christensen has a well-documented criminal history of offending against former girlfriends," Matheson said. "He served jail time in the mid-'90s for taking a rifle shot at an ex-girlfriend he claimed had been cheating on him."
The shooting incident Matheson refers to occurred in 1994, when Christensen stood at a Seattle bus stop and shot at a former girlfriend and her friend. Christensen missed, and the two escaped without injury.
Police said Christensen later told them, "People shoot people where I come from and a girlfriend cheats on you." He also said, "I missed because the sights to the rifle were off," according to court documents.
As a result of the incident, Christensen was convicted of two counts of first-degree domestic violence and assault. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was released in August 2006.
When questioned about Harlan's disappearance, Christensen told police he had not seen her since Jan. 2. He did, however, admit to having an argument with her regarding the broken blood oath.
"He described the oath as a ceremony where you promise to do various things or not do various things and you seal the deal by pricking a finger, getting some blood and burning that in some incense," Matheson said. "That blood is part of sealing the deal. They do their various incantations, make the oath and purify the circle. According to Christensen, back in ancient times, if you break the blood oath, the penalty for that could be death."
Christensen allegedly said that he discovered Harlan had broken the oath when he found a text message on her phone from the guy she had agreed to break off contact with. The transgression, Christensen told police, made her a "'warlock,' literally an evil traitor."
The investigation into Harlan's disappearance took a surprising turn in the days following Christensen's arrest, when a friend of his came forward and told police that he had driven Christensen around Snohomish County so he could dispose of Harlan's remains.
"On the day or days following the homicide, Christensen apparently dismembered the body and then dumped body parts at various parts of the county," Matheson said.
According to Matheson, body parts were recovered at several places around a gravel pit east of Gold Bar. Some had been buried in the ground; others had been left on the surface.
"As far as I can tell at this moment, the dismemberment appeared to be an effort to aid in disposal of the body," Matheson said. "I have not found, in any of the literature I have read about the Wiccan religion, that it is connected to that in any way."
Christensen has not admitted to killing Harlan; however, the evidence against him was sufficient for prosecutors to charge him with first-degree murder.
Christensen's statements to police and his alleged association with the Wiccan religion have caused an uproar within the Wiccan community.
"First of all, in order to nullify this man's association or affiliation with Wicca or witchcraft in general, no denominations belonging to either category advocate the practice of violence to animal or human for any reason whatsoever," Peter Stephen Moore, a former Wiccan and current Thelemic Witch from Pennsylvania, told AOL News. "The main tenet of Wicca is called the Wiccan Rede. It is this: 'An' it harm none, do what thou wilt.' It basically means so long as no one is harmed through your actions, the pursuit of your will (destiny, purpose, dharma) is encouraged. There are no extenuating circumstances or rationalizations to this rule. Modern Wiccans do not believe in acts of vengeance or in engaging in any activity that would impede another's actions."
Moore also found a problem with the blood oath Christensen described.
"There are oaths taken in both witchcraft and ceremonial magical traditions, but there are no oaths in Wicca involving blood that I am aware of. And even assuming there are, no Wiccan would advocate the type of oath he's claiming she took," Moore said. "Wiccans do not believe in the binding of one's love 'till death do us part.' Any taking of such blood oaths as he describes was most likely taken only to pacify his insecurities. He allegedly dismembered the body in an attempt to conceal his alleged crime. Now he chooses a minority religion, whose beliefs and principles are not universally known and understood, to be a scapegoat for his emotional insecurities and their resulting selfish brutalities."
Pat Brown, world-renowned criminal profiler and founder of patbrownprofiling.com, agrees with Moore.
"Christensen is no different than any other guy who got jilted and wants to make his ex pay the price," Brown said. "He found a justification, a version of 'The b---- made me do it' because she violated her religious vow to him of remaining true to him, to be his one and only."