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COMMONWEALTH v. LESLIE (03/14/67)

decided: March 14, 1967.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
LESLIE, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1965, No. 630, affirming order of Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Carbon County, April T., 1964, No. 38, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Warren Asher Leslie.

COUNSEL

Arnold Sousa, for appellant.

John Deutsch, First Assistant District Attorney, with him George Kerestes, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice O'Brien.

Author: O'brien

[ 424 Pa. Page 332]

On January 31, 1964, a two story summer cottage, located in Penn Forest Township, Carbon County, burned to the ground. Corporal Komosinsky, of the Pennsylvania State Police, stationed at Hazleton, having been assigned special duty as assistant deputy fire marshal, Troop N, investigated the fire. (At the time Corporal Komosinsky conducted this investigation, he had held the post of assistant deputy fire marshal for approximately one year, and had handled a total of 35 to 45 investigations.) On the day of the fire, Corporal Komosinsky was on another investigation and was not able to investigate this fire until the following day, February 1, 1964.

Corporal Komosinsky related that he found a mass rubble of charred remains at the building, and that nothing on the premises indicated that the fire was caused deliberately; however, that "I couldn't find any way where the building could have gone spontaneously and in my investigation I felt it was other than an accidental fire, and I pursued it further." His investigation was temporarily halted while Corporal Komosinsky went to Hershey for a one week course of inservice training; however, upon his return, the minor defendant, Leslie, was in prison, and because his description was similar to the description of a person seen near the area of the fire, Corporal Komosinsky went to the prison to interview the minor defendant.

[ 424 Pa. Page 333]

After interviewing Leslie, he obtained a statement from him*fn1 and, after obtaining this statement, again visited the scene of the fire where he thoroughly examined the debris again for any evidence to indicate that the fire had been deliberately caused, and again failed to find any evidence to establish this.

On April 2, 1964, an arson charge was filed against the defendant and a trial was held on January 14th and 15th, 1965. Four witnesses appeared for the Commonwealth: Corporal Komosinsky, Harold Turner, the owner of the premises which had been burned, Martin Schoch, and Captolia Sayuk, the latter two having testified that they saw the defendant going toward the cabin before the fire started; however, only Mr. Schoch claims to have seen him returning at about the time of the fire.*fn2

The only direct evidence of the guilt of the defendant, Leslie, was his confession. The Commonwealth, through Corporal Komosinsky, attempted to establish the corpus delicti and have the confession properly authenticated and to get it into the record. On the basis of this confession, and the testimony of the aforementioned witnesses, the court below allowed the case to go to the jury, which found the minor defendant guilty.

On January 19, 1965, the minor defendant filed a motion in arrest of judgment and/or a new trial, raising in issue the questions of whether there was sufficient opinion evidence to establish a corpus delicti; whether the confession was voluntary and therefore properly admitted into ...


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