Technically, murder by magick is as illegal as by any other method. The reason that it cannot be effectively prosecuted lies in the rules of evidence.
There has to be an actual connection of some sort between the victim, the killer, and means. In other words, the mere fact that someone died and somebody wanted him dead is not proof that that person did it. For a case to be proven a murder weapon must be found or other compelling evidence, such as the suspect leaving the scene of the crime thirty seconds after the killing. And the weapon must fit the murder. In other words, a prosecutor cannot go before a judge and say x died by a knife wound, y has a knife therefore y killed him. Everyone has knives, at least in the kitchen.
In the case of magick killing, death is always indistinguishable from either natural causes or accident. In such cases proof is impossible. The judge will look down very sternly at the prosecutor and tell him in no uncertain terms that the case sucks before throwing it out. And then the press will get their hands on it and the prosecutor will have to look for honest work as a drug dealer or something else equal to his skill.
The one case I know of where a magickal killing took the form of an actual murder, the magician whose working instigated it was miles away at the time with an entire school full of witnesses and was far too young to have been able to hire someone to perform the act.
As far as belief by the public is concerned, it can cut both ways. In the first century c.e. Roman Empire, the Emperor Vitellius issued a decree that all magicians had to be out of Italy by October 1. They responded with placards saying that by October 1 Vitellius was not going to be living anywhere and by that date he had been overthrown and killed. Apuleius Defense is still taught in logic classes. The author of the Golden Ass was accused of killing someone by magick (he was a well-known magician) and brought to trial for it. His defense stated that those who brought the case were lying because if they really believed he could do it they would never have dared to try the case for fear of dying themselves, therefore he had to be innocent. The judge agreed that the prosecutor was lying and Apuleius walked.
That’s pretty much how the Romans dealt with the legal issue of magick. They believed in it enough to pass laws against it, but they were never really enforced unless the Emperor felt personally threatened and even then the Emperor often left office suddenly by unnatural causes before anything could be done to the magician.
In the middle ages and renaissance things were pretty hot for witches, but magicians cleaned up. That was because in spite of popular superstition and the objections of the church, they were not only the only person in the barony who could read, they were often the local bishop or his secretary, which meant that didn’t have a lot to worry about. And a good magician could be worth so much to a monarch that it didn’t matter what the church thought. There is a great scene in a recent, mostly fictional and terribly innacurate film bio of Nostradamus where the inquisition has grabbed him and Catherine De Medici comes in with her guards to get him out. The inquisitor tells her that he is in charge and speaks for the Church and she asks him if he is willing to bet his life on that. Nostradamus is then immediately released. After all, she was the Pope’s aunt in addition to being queen of France.
John Dee helped set up Burghley’s intelligence service that kept track of the Spanish Armada plans and ultimately led to it’s defeat.
In modern times, a couple of cases come to mind.
In 1933, there was preacher in Harlem named Father Divine. He had a nice little cult going (he wasn’t a magician, just a religious fraud who got lucky) and he got tossed in jail for some reason. Three days later the judge who sentenced him dropped dead. A reporter visited Father Divine in his cell and the preacher said, “I hated to do it.” Now this was probably the purest coincidence but it worked. Two days later Father Divine was out and never had any legal trouble again. The reasoning was “Maybe he can and maybe he can’t, but do you really want to take the chance?”
In 1957, after the persecution of Wilhelm Reich, the FDA decided that it wanted to crack down on all radionic stuff as well. They got Ruth Drown out of the way and proceeded to investigate T. Galen Hieronymous. Within three weeks the chief investigator was dead and records had mysteriously started to disappear. Even though it was well known that Hieronymous did some healing work as well his better known agricultural radionic stuff (he went all over the map on this, if it involved psionics, he did it) he never had any legal problems and died an old man in 1988 of very natural causes resulting from being very very old.
One more thing. In 1878 there was a civil case in which one Christian Scientist accused another of sending malicious thought waves at her. The court threw the case out on the grounds that it had no power to control anyone’s mind. That is still the standard in civil litigation and criminal law to this day. Unless there is compelling physical evidence of a threat, such as a letter, or e-mail (keep that in mind folks next time you get in a flame war) or the classic sheep’s heart with nails in it on the doorstep, no court will even hear such a case.
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