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COMMONWEALTH v. STAFFORD (03/16/73)

decided: March 16, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
STAFFORD, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgments of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, April T., 1970, Nos. 1716 and 1717, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Reginald Marcus Stafford.

COUNSEL

Nino V. Tinari, and Lorch, Ryan, Peruto, Vitullo & Tinari, for appellant.

Norris E. Gelman and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Nix

[ 451 Pa. Page 96]

On December 5, 1969, Thomas Holley was found on the highway in the City of Philadelphia bleeding from the head and suffering from facial bruises. He related to police officers who came to his assistance that he had been robbed and beaten with a crowbar. Mr. Holley was taken to the hospital where he was treated and detained. Twenty-four hours later, against medical advice, Mr. Holley signed for his release. On December 9th he was discovered in the bedroom of his home on

[ 451 Pa. Page 97]

    the floor unconscious. He was again taken to the hospital where he died on December 19, 1969, after undergoing brain surgery.

Appellant, Reginald Marcus Stafford, was arrested on February 27, 1970, and charged with being one of a group of young men who committed murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy. On April 5, 1971, after motions to suppress evidence and statements were denied, a jury found appellant guilty as charged. Following the denial of post-trial motions, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on the indictment charging murder, ten to twenty years imprisonment on the indictment charging aggravated robbery, to run consecutively with the sentence imposed on the murder bill, and sentence was suspended on the bill charging conspiracy. This direct appeal followed from the imposition of sentence.

The first assignment of error is that the court's charge was deficient because it failed to adequately instruct the jury on the issue of causation. The appellant, citing Commonwealth v. Root, 403 Pa. 571, 170 A.2d 310 (1961), and Commonwealth v. Redline, 391 Pa. 486, 137 A.2d 472 (1958), argues that the causal connection required to attach criminal responsibility must be more direct than the tort law concept of proximate cause. With this statement of the law we quite agree. A defendant cannot be convicted unless his conduct, or conduct for which he is legally responsible,*fn1 was such as to meet the requirements of criminal and not tort law. As will be discussed below, the act of the culprits must constitute a direct and substantial factor in causing the death of the victim.

[ 451 Pa. Page 98]

Reading the court's charge as a whole, as we must, see, e.g., Commonwealth v. Zapata, 447 Pa. 322, 328 290 A.2d 114, 117-18 (1972); Commonwealth v. Butler, 442 Pa. 30, 34, 272 A.2d 916, 919 (1971), we are convinced that the jury was properly instructed. In defining the crimes charged, it was implicit that the acts of the culprits must be a direct cause of the death to sustain a conviction. Further, the jury was explicitly told that it had to determine how the deceased died and that the Commonwealth had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every element necessary to constitute the crimes charged.*fn2

We also note that although specific objections were made to the charge, there was no objection as to the charge given concerning causation nor was there a request for further instructions on this issue, nor is ...


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