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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ROBERT RANDOLPH PATTERSON (04/19/77)

decided: April 19, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
ROBERT RANDOLPH PATTERSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Greene County at No. 91 Criminal Sessions, 1974.

COUNSEL

Sanford S. Finder, Washington, and James Hook and K. O. Tompkins, II, Waynesburg, for appellant.

W. Bertram Waychoff, District Attorney, Waynesburg, for appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Cercone, J., files a concurring opinion in which Hoffman and Price, JJ., join.

Author: Spaeth

[ 247 Pa. Super. Page 529]

On March 27, 1975, after being found guilty by a jury, appellant was sentenced on counts of arson and criminal trespass. Post-trial motions were filed and denied and the case is before us on direct appeal.

The charges arose out of the burning of two uninhabited farmhouses in Greene County on February 16, 1974. The houses, referred to at trial as the Sabean house and the Esposito house, were separated by only a short distance, and both houses burned on the same day and at approximately the same time.

Appellant first contends that the Commonwealth failed to prove the corpus delicti of the crime of arson before incriminating out-of-court statements by appellant were introduced at the trial.

Appellant is correct in stating that the law requires proof that a crime has been committed before any incriminating statements by an accused may be shown. Commonwealth v. Burns, 409 Pa. 619, 187 A.2d 552 (1962); Commonwealth v. Winter, 174 Pa. Super. 35, 98 A.2d 221 (1953).

The standard we must apply in deciding whether the corpus delicti has been proved in an arson case is stated in Commonwealth v. Nasuti, 385 Pa. 436, 123 A.2d 435 (1956):

In an arson case the corpus delicti consists of a willful and malicious burning, that is, a fire of incendiary origin. That the corpus delicti can always be proved by circumstantial evidence is unquestionable.

Id. 385 Pa. at 441-42, 123 A.2d at 437. ...


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