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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WILLIAM DANIELS (07/27/78)

decided: July 27, 1978.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
WILLIAM DANIELS, APPELLANT



No. 260 January Term, 1976, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Wayne County, Pennsylvania, to No. 33 January Term, 1974.

COUNSEL

William C. Costopoulos, Lemoyne, Richard D. Ballou, Honesdale, for appellant.

Nicholas A. Barna, Dist. Atty., Stephen G. Bresset, Honesdale, for appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts and Manderino, JJ., concur in the result. Jones, former C. J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 480 Pa. Page 342]

OPINION

Appellant William Daniels, charged with murder in connection with the death of Jonathan D. Smith,*fn1 was tried before a jury in the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Following the denial of post-trial motions and the entry of judgment of sentence, a direct appeal was brought here.*fn2 We will affirm.

A summary of the evidence upon which the jury could properly have based its verdict, see, e. g., Commonwealth v. Hubbard, 472 Pa. 259, 266, 372 A.2d 687 (1977); Commonwealth v. Rose, 463 Pa. 264, 267-68, 344 A.2d 824 (1975), is necessary to an understanding of appellant's claims. The record discloses that in 1967 Jonathan Smith, 21 years of age, was a resident at the Hillcrest School, a privately operated boarding school for retarded children and juveniles

[ 480 Pa. Page 343]

    near Hawley, Pennsylvania. William Daniels was employed at the school as a night attendant. According to the testimony of numerous former residents at the school, Smith was a target of a pattern of physical abuse either directed by or performed by Daniels. Smith was beaten from time to time, either by Daniels or by others acting at his direction, and once suffered a broken arm as a consequence. On at least one occasion Smith was tied in a spread-eagle fashion to his bed. He was deprived of food. He was put out of the school's dormitory while partially clothed or naked, and exposed to the cold for varying lengths of time. One distinctive form of abuse was "the drink," in which Smith was placed in a bathtub and forcibly held under water and deprived of air for a period of time.

Repeated abuses of this sort continued until Smith's death on the morning of May 19, 1967. Dr. Hobart Owens, the school's physician, testified that Smith had been suffering from influenza pneumonia for some ten days prior to his death; other witnesses testified that he had been ill for some two weeks. During this period, Smith was running a high temperature; other symptoms included coughing, abnormal sweating, shaking and lethargy. Despite this illness, appellant ordered Smith on the night before his death to "run wetters,"*fn3 a form of punishment. Some time later, Norman Murray and James Sipes, two residents of the school, were ordered by appellant to take Smith from the dormitory and throw him naked over a nearby embankment. The school was located on high ground and witnesses testified that the weather at the time was cold, with snow on the ground. Smith was out of doors for a period from one-half hour to an hour. When he was allowed to return to the building, he was shivering noticeably and asked for medical attention. Instead, Daniels ordered him to resume "running wetters." One witness testified that Smith was subjected to "the drink" on the same night; another testified that the

[ 480 Pa. Page 344]

    last such incident was one or two nights before Smith's death.

Several hours after these events, Smith went to the bathroom, asked for a drink of water, collapsed and died. Appellant, who had told Smith ". . . you better not die on my shift," had already left the premises, leaving Murray in charge until the day shift arrived. On Smith's death certificate Dr. Owens stated the cause of death to be a pulmonary embolism. Smith's body, being unclaimed, was sent to Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia on the day of his death, and was eventually cremated. No autopsy was ever performed.

The Commonwealth's chief medical witness was Dr. Halbert Fillinger, a forensic pathologist. He testified that in his opinion the cause of Smith's death was bronchial pneumonia, which was the result of the following "multiple contributing factors:" "the dehydration, the physical abuse which has weakened this deceased . . . a prior ongoing infection . . . weakening him, making him more susceptible to the effects of abuse both physical and climatologic, and the accelerating process of pneumonia causing his death." Dr. Fillinger further testified that, assuming the truth of the events described by the former residents, "[t]he circumstances described . . . both in times several days to several weeks prior to his demise and specifically on the night of his death, indicate clearly -- particularly those circumstances that occurred shortly before his death -- a series of episodes which accelerated his diseased process and brought about his death," and that Smith's exposure to the cold on the night before he died "had a marked accelerating effect upon his demise." The Commonwealth produced another medical witness, Dr. Marvin Aranson, who also qualified as an expert in forensic pathology. It was Dr. Aranson's opinion that the cause of Smith's death was "a pneumonia due to the exposure to the water ["the drink"], the exposure to the cold temperatures, and aggravated by the other factors of beatings and starvation." He also testified that, in his opinion, "[t]he non-medical treatment of beatings,

[ 480 Pa. Page 345]

    starvation and exposure would be that which made an otherwise healthy 23-year old or 22-year old die from this disease, which healthy people ...


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