Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, No. 1250 C.D. 1971, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Nancy Lee May.
Thomas C. Zerbe, Public Defender, for appellant.
Marion E. MacIntyre, Deputy District Attorney, with him LeRoy S. Zimmerman, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents.
The appellant, Nancy Lee May, her step-brother, Larry Ray Alleman, and her father, Ray Alleman, lived in a frame cabin near Harrisburg. On March 15, 1971, Larry and a neighbor returned from school at about 3:30 p.m. to find the cabin on fire. Upon discovering that the door was locked, they broke a window, but the intense smoke drove them back. The fire department was sumomned and, when the firemen gained access by breaking down the door, they found the body of Ray Alleman, appellant's father, lying inside the door.
Appellant was arrested the same day and charged with the murder of her father. After a trial by jury she was convicted of murder in the second degree. Post trial motions were argued and denied and the appellant was fined $1,000 and sentenced to not more than twenty years imprisonment. This direct appeal follows.
Appellant's sole contention is that the Commonwealth failed to establish the corpus delicti prior to the introduction of her confession.
To establish a criminal case, the Commonwealth has the burden of showing: (a) that a loss has occurred; (b) that this loss occurred through a criminal agency; and (c) that the accused was, in fact, the perpetrator of the deed. Commonwealth v. Burns, 409 Pa. 619, 187 A.2d 552 (1963); Commonwealth v. Homeyer, 373 Pa. 150, 94 A.2d 743 (1953); Commonwealth v. Gardner, 282 Pa. 458, 128 A. 87 (1925). Corpus delicti is a rule of evidence making it mandatory that evidence of the first two elements be presented before the Commonwealth can rely upon statements and declarations of the accused. Commonwealth v. Leamer, 449 Pa. 76, 295 A.2d 272
(1972); Commonwealth v. Palmer, 448 Pa. 282, 292 A.2d 921 (1972); Commonwealth v. Burns, supra; Commonwealth ex rel. Lagana v. Day, 385 Pa. 338, 123 A.2d 172 (1956). Specifically considering an arson murder, the corpus delicti consists of proof of a death resulting from a fire of incendiary origin. Commonwealth v. Bolish, 381 Pa. 500, 113 A.2d 464 (1955).
It has long been the law of this Commonwealth that the prosecution has no duty to affirmatively exclude the possibility of accident or suicide in order to establish the corpus delicti; Commonwealth v. Ross, 403 Pa. 358, 169 A.2d 780 (1961); Commonwealth v. Bishop, 285 Pa. 49, 131 A. 657 (1926); Commonwealth v. Puglise, 276 Pa. 235, 120 A. 401 (1923). Such a requirement would, in effect, require the Commonwealth to exclude every possibility of doubt that death was caused by criminal agency.
In Commonwealth v. Boykin, 450 Pa. 25, 298 A.2d 258 (1972),*fn1 the court held that the Commonwealth was merely required to establish that the death ...