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As a 90s kid, I remember the Satanic Panic that gripped Texas in the late 80s and early 90s. The hysteria lead to my elementary school changing mascots from the Wizards to the Wolverines. I was bullied by an overzealous neighbor over a dream catcher necklace I wore. Not because I was a culturally appropriating eight-year-old, but because it was Satanic, according to some book she had received from her church.

This was ridiculous and petty, but real people went to jail over crimes they did not (and honestly could not have committed) like Dan and Fran Keller of Austin, Texas, who were somehow convicted of, "forcing children to drink blood-laced Kool-Aid and to watch Dan and Fran dismember people with a chainsaw" based off of testimony given by heavily coached 3-year-olds.

The Satanic Panic, fueled heavily by the media, was almost entirely smoke and mirrors to drum up ratings and church attendance. However, one Texas case did have a "connection" with the Devil- the Laredo Triple Ax Murders.

Photo by Dmitry Bukhantsov on Unsplash
Photo by Dmitry Bukhantsov on Unsplash

In 1991, two teenage boys killed three sleeping people in what could be seen as simply a robbery that went wrong or a clearly blood-thirsty rampage. It depends on which of the teens you're looking at.

If you're looking at Miguel Angel Martinez, who was 17 at the time of the murders, it's easy to see a kid who had fallen down a bad path due to drugs and hanging out with the wrong friends. You'd also see the youngest Texan to ever be a defendant on death row, and a clear example of the Texas "Law of parties", which allows for a person to be criminally responsible for another person's actions, should they happen while committing a felony together.

The original plan had been to use keys to gain entrance into the home of James Smiley, a Baptist youth counselor, to steal cash to pay for cocaine. Martinez wanted to leave after seeing that people were asleep in the house, Miguel Angel Venegas, then 16, was there on another mission:

Martinez claimed he didn't leave because, by that point, he was scared of Venegas.

After striking the man sleeping on the couch with an ax, Venegas stabbed him repeatedly, Martinez said. He added that Venegas then told him it was his turn.

Martinez said he struck the man once and then went outside for a while [to vomit]. Venegas went to the rooms and killed the other two.

Martinez also reported that Venegas claimed he, "was on a mission for Satan. Satan wanted their souls."

Venegas would go to escape the juvenile detention center he was housed in and was recaptured in Mexico. He did not stand trial until 13 years after the crime. Martinez's death sentence was in part overturned because he was willing to testify against Venegas, who would claim the murders had nothing to do with Satan- he just wanted money for cocaine. Over those 13 years, evidence had been destroyed by Laredo police, and, "a courthouse clerk used the ax that reportedly was used in the murders to prune an office Christmas tree."

Venegas, in spite of being by far the more active participant and instigator of the crimes,  took a plea deal for 41 years, which he referred to as, "just like a little slap in the hand."

I don't know if Venegas really had Satanic motives in the murders, but clearly, the devil can exist in the company you keep- just ask Miguel Angel Martinez.

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