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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. HAROLD R. MASSART (10/03/75)

decided: October 3, 1975.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
HAROLD R. MASSART, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Michael Hahalyak, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert F. Hawk, 1st Asst. Dist. Atty., Butler, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.

Author: Nix

[ 469 Pa. Page 574]

OPINION

Appellant, Harold R. Massart, was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter for the death of his wife. Post-trial motions were denied and appellant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three to ten years. This direct appeal followed.*fn1

There being no witnesses to this occurrence, the Commonwealth was required to establish its case by circumstantial evidence. It relied heavily on the testimony of a state criminologist. Appellant now argues that the testimony of this witness should have been excluded because there was no sufficient foundation for its admission.

When the police arrived at the scene in response to a call from a neighbor at the husband's request, they observed the body of the victim lying on the second floor of the Massart home. Examination by the pathologist revealed that a blow to the head caused Mrs. Massart to lose consciousness which resulted in loss of control of the digestive tract and suffocation from regurgitated food particles. Appellant informed the police that a "glassyeyed hippie-type" intruder had forced his way into their home, struck him and apparently attacked his wife during the time that he (appellant) was unconscious.*fn2 The police, at the time of their arrival on the scene, had observed

[ 469 Pa. Page 575]

    a superficial wound on the person of the appellant.

To contradict this version, the Commonwealth called a Mr. Plankenhorn, whose qualifications as a criminologist have not here been challenged. He testified that a piece of sailcloth which was found on the person of the appellant and covered with blood of the deceased had been tested by him to determine whether it had been in contact with a claw hammer which the Commonwealth contended was the murder weapon. The test performed was accomplished through fluorescence. As a result, he testified that he found metal particles in the shape of a claw on the sailcloth. He further stated that he fluoresced a similar, though unidentified, substance on both the hammer and the sailcloth.

This testimony was particularly crucial to the Commonwealth's case because, through other evidence, they were able to establish that the hammer belonged to the appellant and that it was found after the incident in the basement in an area where appellant had a workbench with his tools and equipment. There was also testimony that blood matching appellant's blood type was found in the area where the hammer was found although appellant, in his version of what occurred, made no mention of entering the basement portion of the house after the entry by the intruder.

In his attack on the admissibility of the evidence of Mr. Plankenhorn, appellant asserts, a) that the tests were not conducted in a sufficiently scientific manner, b) that the Commonwealth's evidence failed to exclude the possibility that the sailcloth had been wrapped around the hammer at some point well after the incident and possibly by police investigators, and c) that the testimony regarding the sailcloth was completely ...


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