A woman charged in Texas with killing her husband was previously involved in the 2018 shooting death of her former partner, prosecutors in Minnesota said this week while announcing that the older case has been reopened.
Sarah Jean Hartsfield, who went by the last name Donahue, was indicted Feb. 3 in Chambers County, Texas, on a felony murder charge, court documents show. She is being held on a $5 million bond.
The charge is connected to the Jan. 15 death of her husband Joseph Hartsfield, who died at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital sfter a "suspicious illness," Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said in a Facebook post. Deputies had been called to the hospital that day and launched an investigation after they were given inconsistent information.
Hawthorne said that the inconsistencies coupled with "other determining factors made the illness appear more suspicious in nature."
Authorities have not said what led up to Joseph Hartsfield's death, but Hawthorne said foul play is suspected. A cause of death was not been released.
"This is an active case and only limited details can be released at this time," Hawthorne said in a statement. "I appreciate the hard work of the deputies and detectives who followed their instincts and identified the suspicious circumstances surrounding Mr. Hartfield’s death that could have been labeled as 'death due to illness' instead of murder."
The sheriff told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston that during the investigation, detectives learned that Sarah Hartsfield had been married five times and that some of her former spouses had died. Detectives were able to speak with three of her ex-husbands.
"Every relationship that it appears that she’s been in, everybody wants out of it because they fear for their life," Hawthorne told the news station. "A number of them have either made the statement, 'I needed out because I felt like my life was in danger,' and some have found where their life was clearly in danger."
Following the arrest, prosecutors in Douglas County, Minnesota, said they were reopening a case into the death of David Bragg, who was fatally shot by Sarah Hartsfield at their home on May 9, 2018.
She was never charged in the case after Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said it was self-defense. In a 2019 letter, Larson said that Hartsfield and Bragg had gotten into a physical altercation.
Hartsfield told responding deputies that Bragg had fired a gun at her and she immediately shot him, the letter stated. Bragg was found dead on the first floor of the home by the time deputies arrived, according to Larson's letter.
The county attorney wrote that a crime scene team found a bullet hole "in a location consistent with Mr. Bragg discharging his firearm at Ms. Donahue as she was ascending the stairs." DNA, fingerprints and witness statements were also "consistent with Ms. Donahue's version of events," he said at the time.
Larson said in his 2019 letter that Hartsfield was "justified" in shooting Bragg because it was self-defense, but said Thursday that new information had been received by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office which prompted the case to be considered active again.
The sheriff's office directed questions to the county attorney, who did not provide further details.
Bragg’s family told KPRC that they always thought the circumstances surrounding his death seemed "farfetched, and almost made up."
"We are incredibly saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Mr. Joseph Hartsfield. As terrible as it was to hear, it did not come as much of a surprise to our family, as we too lost a treasured member of our family to the hands of Sarah Donahue (now Hartsfield). We are relieved to hear that Douglas County is willing to reopen David’s case," the family said.