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COMMONWEALTH v. FRASER (01/07/52)

January 7, 1952

COMMONWEALTH
v.
FRASER, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 243, Jan. T., 1951, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, May Sessions, 1950, No. 1348, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Willie Alma Fraser. Judgment reversed.

COUNSEL

Thomas M. Reed, for appellant.

Raymond V. John, Assistant District Attorney, with him John H. Maurer, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Stearne, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Chidsey

[ 369 Pa. Page 274]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE CHIDSEY

Defendant, Willie Alma Fraser, was charged with the murder of her estranged husband, Charles Fraser, in her home, 1331 South Opal Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 2, 1950. She pleaded "not guilty" and asserted self-defense. The jury returned a verdict of "guilty of voluntary manslaughter". Following dismissal of defendant's motion for a new trial, sentence was imposed from which this appeal is taken.

At the outset of the trial the District Attorney stated in his opinion the evidence to be presented did not warrant a finding of murder in the first degree. It appeared that defendant and her husband were estranged and had been separated for about eight months before the killing took place. During the period they had lived together they had engaged in a series of violent quarrels and defendant had several times been beaten by her husband. Defendant had established her residence in an apartment house and had living with her a youngster of about seven years of age for whom she was caring. The husband went to his wife's apartment on some occasions, but only as a trouble maker, compelling the defendant to call the police. On the

[ 369 Pa. Page 275]

    night before the killing he had broken into the apartment and taken away clothing belonging to the defendant and the child. On the evening of the occurrence, defendant, after an absence from her apartment, was about to enter it when she noticed that the door was partially open. She was suspicious and went to the apartment of her friend, Lucille Moore, who lived on the same floor. Together they went to defendant's apartment to investigate. As defendant pushed the door open, her husband, Charles Fraser, came from behind the door and pulled her into the room, brandishing a butcher knife. There followed a violent tussle during which defendant was beaten. Roosevelt Corbin, defendant's brothr, arrived at this time and in attempting to separate them, was himself struck to the floor and held there by Fraser, who had the knife still in his hand. Defendant managed to wrest the knife from her husband's hand and stabbed him in the left buttock, which blow severed the femoral vein. Thereupon Fraser got up and in a menacing manner advanced toward defendant who slowly retreated, warning him to stay away, and wielding the knife in front of her. In so doing, three more stab wounds were inflicted upon deceased, one severing a large blood vessel leading from the heart. Either of the major wounds could have caused death, but the wound in the hip caused a slow hemorrhage from which death would not immediately occur. After receiving the last wounds, decedent sat on a sofa and defendant threw the knife away in the room and ran out, followed by her brother. The defendant testified that when she first entered the room the deceased said to her, "I am going to kill you tonight."

The learned trial judge charged the jury, "... it must appear that the defendant had no other reasonable means of escape except by killing.", "... if she failed to use opportunities of escape available to her, then of course, whatever she did would not be excusable

[ 369 Pa. Page 276]

    on the grounds of self defense.", and the whole tenor of his charge was in accord with these instructions. Appellant complains that the deceased husband was an intruder in the defendant's home and she was not obliged to retreat or endeavor to escape and her actions were justified if she believed or had reasonable ...


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