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COMMONWEALTH v. COLLAZO (05/21/62)

May 21, 1962

COMMONWEALTH
v.
COLLAZO, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 259, Jan. T., 1962, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Cumberland County, Dec. T., 1961, No. 19, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Rafael Collazo. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

George F. Douglas, Jr., for appellant.

Richard C. Snelbaker, Assistant District Attorney, with him Harold S. Irwin, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 407 Pa. Page 495]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

This is one of those homicidal cases where life has been treated as if it were something paltry, instead, as it really is, the all-pervading motif of the universe. As the result of an absurd altercation, which involved no important factual, and certainly no moral issue, between the contestants, life was destroyed and the destroyer has become a criminal. The convicted destroyer now appeals to this Court seeking the freedom which he himself threw away when he plunged his knife into the heart of his adversary. He claims that the judge at his trial improperly instructed the jury which convicted him.

The facts follow. An hour or so after midnight on November 3, 1960, Miguel Ruis, the victim of the mortal attack, and Rafael Collazo, the deadly assailant, staged a short combat in an apple orchard at Pennsylvania Farms, near Mechanicsburg, in the vicinity of a large two-story building used by migrant workers as living quarters. It appears that Ruis and a certain Anibal Matos had arranged for the latter to drive Ruis to Harrisburg. However, before they could embark on their trip, a certain Alphonzo Lopez, another migrant worker, took Matos's car on an errand of his own and damaged it. When Ruis learned of this he seized a wooden stake measuring 28 inches long, 3/4 ths of an inch thick, 2 1/2 inches wide at one end and tapering,

[ 407 Pa. Page 4967]

inches from the other end, to a point for driving into the ground. With this stake he set out to chastise Lopez, and, finding him, began to beat him.

Into this cheap, rapidly-moving melodrama now entered a character named Elijah Leary, known also as Big Larry. He pulled Ruis away from Lopez and led him to his own car, promising to make up for the deficiency caused by Matos's misadventure, by driving him himself to Harrisburg. When they arrived at Big Larry's car, Larry opened the door to have Ruis enter. At this time and place the defendant Rafael Collazo entered into the act. For no reason that is apparent in the record he began to argue with Ruis and Ruis argued back. This debate was conducted in Spanish and since Big Larry, who was the only hearing witness present, did not understand Spanish, the details of the wordy wrangle have not been vouchsafed to posterity.

At his own trial Collazo said that Ruis was berating him because he had taken Lopez's side in the argument between Ruis and Lopez. Ruis reinforced his side of the argument with the stick in his hand, applying blows to Collazo's face and shoulders, but Collazo brought the debate quickly to an end with an irrefutable refutation by whipping out a butcher knife from under his shirt, driving it through Ruis's ribs and sheathing it in his heart. As Ruis fell, Collazo leaped astride him apparently to make certain that he had truly ended the argument.

On this showing of facts the district attorney of Cumberland County, where the killing occurred, concluded that he could not hope for a conviction on the charge of murder and he accordingly asked the grand jury of the county to return an indictment of voluntary manslaughter, ...


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