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COMMONWEALTH v. SKUFCA (09/15/72)

decided: September 15, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SKUFCA, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, April T., 1970, Nos. 276 and 277, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Luella Skufca.

COUNSEL

John M. O'Connell, Jr., for appellant.

Louis H. Ceraso, Assistant District Attorney, and John N. Scales, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wright, P. J., Watkins, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, Cercone, and Packel, JJ. Opinion by Watkins, J.

Author: Watkins

[ 222 Pa. Super. Page 507]

This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Westmoreland County, by the defendant, Luella Skufca, of involuntary manslaughter and negligence and abandonment of minor children; and from the denial of post-trial motions.

The defendant contends that the charge of the court below and the conviction of involuntary manslaughter cannot be sustained since the act of the defendant, whether a crime not amounting to a felony, or negligence as required by the statute, was not the cause of the death of these two children but contends that the only cause of the deaths was suffocation due to the fire.

The defendant was the mother of two small children, Patrick, age one year and ten months, and Bertha, age three and one-half years, at the time of the incident in question. They were residing in a second floor apartment in the City of Arnold, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. On the evening of January 23, 1970, the defendant was anxious to go out for the evening and attempted to arrange for someone to sit with the children during her absence. Upon leaving the apartment, she put the two small children in the bedroom of the apartment and locked the door from the outside by a hook latch and the insertion of a table knife between the door and the jamb to prevent it from being unlatched from the inside. At this time, the person who was supposedly sitting with the children was down the street in a tavern, reportedly, according to the testimony of witnesses, inebriated. The defendant had knowledge of this fact, but, nonetheless, went out for the evening.

At approximately 12:05 a.m. on January 24, 1970, a fire broke out in the building where the apartment

[ 222 Pa. Super. Page 508]

    was located in close proximity, if not in fact within the second floor apartment. At the time the fire was discovered, the other tenants of the building were aroused and helped to remove the other children from the building. A visitor to the building was told that the two small children were in the apartment. He went to the apartment and attempted to rescue the children. However, because of the intense heat and smoke and tar dripping from the roof, he was unable to determine how the door was latched and was unsuccessful in his rescue attempt. At this time, he could hear the voice of the defendant's daughter crying for her mother. Sometime later when the firemen were able to enter the building, the two small children were found suffocated in the locked bedroom of the apartment.

After conviction of both charges, the court sentenced the defendant to the Women's Correctional Institution at Muncy for an indeterminate sentence not to exceed a maximum of two years.

Commonwealth v. Root, 403 Pa. 571, 170 A.2d 310 (1961) holds the tort definition of proximate cause in manslaughter cases can no longer be used in Pennsylvania but that to sustain the conviction of involuntary manslaughter the action of the defendant must be a direct cause of the death in issue. However, Root, supra, does state that there can be more than ...


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