No. 413 Pittsburgh, 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Allegheny County, No. 8104946.
Dara A. DeCourcy, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for Commonwealth, appellant.
Gary B. Zimmerman, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Rowley, Johnson and Popovich, JJ.
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 52]
This is an appeal by the Commonwealth from an order of the trial court granting appellee's request for a writ of habeas corpus upon finding that the Commonwealth had failed to establish a prima facie case against him at a coroner's inquest. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand this case for trial.
In cases of violent or suspicious death, a coroner's inquest may be held in lieu of a preliminary hearing and the coroner or his properly authorized designee may act as committing magistrate or issuing authority. Commonwealth v. Lopinson, 427 Pa. 284, 291-292, 234 A.2d 552, 557-558 (1967), vacated on other grounds, 392 U.S. 647, 88 S.Ct. 2277, 20 L.Ed.2d 1344 (1968). As at a preliminary hearing, the Commonwealth bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that a crime has been committed and that the accused is the person who committed it. Commonwealth v. Prado, 481 Pa. 485, 393 A.2d 8 (1978); Commonwealth v. Beatty, 281 Pa. Super. 85, 421 A.2d 1159 (1980). See also Commonwealth ex rel. Scolio v. Hess, 149 Pa. Super. 371, 27 A.2d 705 (1942) (same burden on challenge to sufficiency of preliminary hearing evidence by habeas corpus petition).
[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 53]
This does not mean that the prosecution must prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Commonwealth Page 53} v. Rick, 244 Pa. Super. 33, 366 A.2d 302 (1976), but rather, the prosecution must establish "sufficient probable cause" that the accused has committed the offense. Commonwealth v. Smith, 212 Pa. Super. 403, 244 A.2d 787 (1968).
Commonwealth v. Prado, 481 Pa. at 489, 393 A.2d at 10.
In its brief to this Court, the Commonwealth has accurately summarized the facts shown by the testimony produced at the inquest.
Throughout the four-year period preceding the June 14, 1979 slaying of Gary DeStefano, Gerald Walls and DeStefano worked together transporting drugs from Florida to the northern states. Among the individuals to whom Walls transported and sold drugs was the appellee[ ], William Prosdocimo. Approximately five days prior to DeStefano's death, Prosdocimo placed an order with Walls requesting delivery of three to five hundred pounds of marijuana and fifty thousand or more methaquaalude tablets. However, unknown to Walls and DeStefano, Prosdocimo, together with Charles Kellington and Robert Bricker, contrived a plan whereby the three would "rip-off" the drugs from Walls at the time of delivery. The "rip off" was to entail "steal[ing], stick[ing Walls] up" or doing ["[w]hatever you had to do to get [the marijuana]"], including killing Walls. Prosdocimo indicated that once the marijuana was taken from Walls, it would be given to a Charles Bonasorte to sell.
Walls obtained approximately one hundred and fifty-eight pounds of marijuana and approximately ten thousand methaquaalude tablets in order to fill Prosdocimo's order. Together with DeStefano, he packaged the marijuana in large plastic garbage bags in the trunk of DeStefano's automobile, and the remainder of the marijuana as well as the [metha]quaalude tablets inside the car. Walls later telephoned Prosdocimo, informing him of the amount of ...