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COMMONWEALTH v. MORALES (10/12/71)

decided: October 12, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
MORALES, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, Sept. T., 1968, No. 1, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Antonio Morales.

COUNSEL

Frederick S. Wolf, and Beaver, Wolf and Brandt, for appellant.

George E. Christianson, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Eagen

[ 444 Pa. Page 389]

Antonio Morales appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed by the court below following his conviction by a jury in Lebanon County of murder in the second degree.

From the Commonwealth's evidence at trial, the jury was warranted in finding the following facts.

After leaving a party, Morales and William Rivera proceeded to the former's residence and engaged in a game of dice in a room on the second floor. Ernesto Rivera, William's brother, who accompanied them did not play. After losing some money, Morales became "perturbed" and hit William Rivera in the face. When the latter refused to play any further, despite the insistence

[ 444 Pa. Page 390]

    of Morales that the game continue, Morales left the room and closed the door behind him. The Riveras then decided to leave the house in order to avoid further trouble.

As Ernesto Rivera started towards the stairs leading to the first floor, Morales came out of a second-floor bedroom and followed him downstairs with a revolver in his hand. When Ernesto tried to unlock the front door, Morales grabbed him by the neck and told him not to leave. When William came downstairs and walked towards the door, Morales told him he had to resume the dice game or give him his money back. When this demand was refused, Morales stepped back, loaded two bullets into the revolver and fired one into William's chest. As the victim's body twisted around, Morales shot a second bullet into his back. This second missile pierced the tip of the heart and other vital internal organs causing almost instantaneous death.

The Commonwealth's case depended in substantial part upon the testimony of Ernesto Rivera, whose description of the fatal occurrence differed materially from that given by Morales during his trial testimony. The latter testified that he shot in self-defense and only after both of the Riveras had threatened his life with knives which they were holding in their hands. It is now urged that Ernesto's trial testimony was "too contradictory and fantastic to be credible" and that justice requires a retrial. After reading the entire trial record, we cannot agree. The issue was purely factual and was presented to the jury in fair and clear instructions by the trial ...


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