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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. HARVEY MATTHEWS (07/14/78)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: July 14, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
HARVEY MATTHEWS, APPELLANT

No. 456 January Term, 1976, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Trial Division, at No. 1291, August Session, 1975

COUNSEL

Robert P. Paskings, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Edward G. Rendell, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Deputy Dist. Atty. for Law, Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

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

Author: Pomeroy

[ 480 Pa. Page 34]

OPINION

Following a trial without jury, appellant, Harvey Matthews, was adjudged guilty of murder of the third degree. Post-trial motions were denied and a sentence of two and one-half to ten years imprisonment thereafter imposed.

[ 480 Pa. Page 35]

This appeal followed*fn1 in which Matthews contends that the evidence was insufficient to show that any act of his was the cause of the victim's death, or that he acted with malice. Our study of the record satisfies us that these contentions are without merit. We will therefore affirm.

On August 2, 1975, at approximately 7:30 p.m., the Philadelphia police responded to a plea for help at the address of appellant's home. Upon arrival there, they found a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the residence, where a passer-by was attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation upon appellant's twenty-month old stepson, Carlos. The police rushed the child, the appellant and his wife to a nearby hospital, where the child was pronounced dead at 9:40 p.m. In response to police inquires concerning the matter, appellant stated that the bruises on the child's body were the result of a fall. Later, he admitted that he had disciplined the child. Matthews was then placed under arrest and in due course indicted for murder, manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

At trial, the Commonwealth's medical expert testified that an autopsy performed on the victim revealed a number of old scars, healing wounds and recent injuries. The recent injuries involved eleven different bruises, abrasions and swellings of the back, chest, midline, abdomen, face, eyes and eye-lids. The most significant injury was a tear to the mesentery lining of the small intestine which resulted in the hemorrhaging of a substantial amount of blood into the abdominal cavity. The expert stated that the cause of death was the multiple injuries, inflicted by a blunt object used with a considerable amount of force.

The Commonwealth also introduced into evidence a statement given by appellant to the police shortly after the death of the child in which Matthews denied striking the child and again attributed the injuries to a fall suffered by the child earlier in the day. Later in the statement, however, Matthews admitted striking the child a number of times for

[ 480 Pa. Page 36]

    various reasons during the course of the day of August 2. The last of these punishments, according to Matthews, occurred at approximately 6:30 p.m. when Matthews noted Carlos playing with electrical wires attached to stereo equipment.*fn2

Taking the stand in his own behalf, appellant denied any intent to hurt the child and attributed the majority of the victim's bruises to various mishaps. Other witnesses called by the defense also testified to the child's clumsiness.

We have often stated that causation need not be established by direct evidence but may follow from circumstantial evidence of a reliable and persuasive nature. Commonwealth v. Ilgenfritz, 466 Pa. 345, 353 A.2d 387 (1976); Commonwealth v. Blevins, 453 Pa. 481, 309 A.2d 421 (1973);

[ 480 Pa. Page 37276]

A.2d 530, 531 (1971), quoting Commonwealth v. Lawrence, 428 Pa. 188, 193-94, 236 A.2d 768, 771 (1968).

As we have indicated above, the medical testimony showed extensive markings and bruises over the victim's entire body consistent only with a beating administered with significant force. Appellant admitted to striking the child numerous times on the day of his death and admitted to losing his temper while striking the child. We cannot say that the fact-finder erred in concluding that a full-grown adult who repeatedly used excessive force upon a child of such tender years evidenced an extreme indifference to the value of human life.*fn5 Commonwealth v. Blevins, supra; Commonwealth v. Paquette, supra; Commonwealth v. Steele, 448 Pa. 518, 295 A.2d 334 (1972).

Judgment of sentence affirmed.


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