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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES E. HUGNEY (09/22/80)

decided: September 22, 1980.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JAMES E. HUGNEY, APPELLANT



No. 43 May Term, 1979, Appeal from Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal, of Dauphin County, at Nos. 1296, 1296(a) C.D. 1979

COUNSEL

Marilyn C. Zilli, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant.

Marion E. MacIntyre, First Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ.

Author: O'brien

[ 491 Pa. Page 224]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant, James E. Hugney, was convicted by a jury of murder of the second degree and arson. Post-verdict motions were denied and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and to a consecutive prison term of ten to twenty years for the arson conviction.

[ 491 Pa. Page 225]

Following sentencing, privately-retained trial counsel withdrew from the case and the Dauphin County Public Defender was appointed to assist appellant on his direct appeal. Subsequently, appellant filed a motion for a new trial on the basis of after-discovered evidence. Following two days of hearings on the motion, it was denied and this direct appeal followed.

The facts as adduced at trial are as follows. In the early morning hours of August 20, 1978, at approximately 6:15 a. m., a fire broke out at appellant's residence at 1625 Bamburger Road, Susquehanna Township. Firemen were notified by a neighbor, Bernice Shutt, who was awakened by the fire. Ms. Shutt ran outside where the victim, Jimmy Hugney, appellant's sixteen-year-old son, had collapsed with 98% of his body covered with third-degree burns. The victim told Ms. Shutt, "I was sleeping, there is something wrong, that fire was too fast, maybe it was electrical."

The first official on the scene, Township Fire Marshall John Brindle, Sr., was directed to the victim by Ms. Shutt. The victim told Brindle that he had been awakened by what he thought was a fire bomb and had immediately run out of the house. When Detective Paul Kinsinger of the Susquehanna Township police arrived shortly thereafter, the victim told him he heard a loud bang and upon waking up, everything was on fire. The victim was removed by ambulance to a local hospital and subsequently was transferred to the Burn Center of St. Agnes Medical Center in Philadelphia, where he died five days later.

Four experts testified at trial, all opining that the fire was of incendiary origin. William Sweet, a qualified expert, testified that he noticed "flow patterns" in the victim's bedroom and in adjacent rooms; these patterns led to Sweet's conclusion that a flammable substance had been poured on the floors and set ablaze.

Margaret Hugney, wife of appellant and mother of the victim, testified that she and appellant had been married for seventeen years; the pair, however, had separated two months ...


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