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06/12/97 COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MICHELLE

June 12, 1997

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
MICHELLE BRENNAN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence October 16, 1996 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Criminal No. 2436 of 1995. Before MUNDY, J.

Before: Beck, J., Saylor, J. And Montemuro J.* , Opinion BY Montemuro, J. Judge Saylor Concurs in the Result.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Montemuro

OPINION BY MONTEMURO, J.:

Following a jury trial, Michelle Brennan was convicted of involuntary manslaughter *fn1 in the death of her boyfriend. The trial court sentenced her to six to twelve months imprisonment and ordered her to undergo counseling and therapy. On appeal, she contends that the trial court erred by (1) allowing testimony concerning her economic status; (2) prohibiting testimony of the violent character of the deceased; and (3) refusing to instruct the jury that she was a lodger in her mother's house and therefore had no duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force. She argues that the evidence was insufficient to support verdict, or, alternatively, that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence, because the Commonwealth failed to negate self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. We reverse.

On August 18, 1995 the police were called to investigate a stabbing at 173 Winter Street, Pittston City, Pennsylvania. Upon their arrival at the scene, Officers James Sulima and Paul Porfirio discovered the victim, Robert Schumaker, dead, and Appellant, covered in blood, standing over the body. Appellant and the victim, who was also her boyfriend and father of her two children, became involved in a physical altercation at Appellant's mother's residence at 149 Winter Street; Appellant had stabbed the victim in the throat with a steak knife, and he escaped down the road where a neighbor called for help. Although Appellant admitted stabbing the victim, she gave conflicting statements concerning the reasons for her actions.

At trial Appellant asserted self-defense and offered testimony concerning prior incidents of domestic violence to which the police had responded; an existing Protection from Abuse Order (PFA Order) against the victim; the victim's prior arrest for aggravated assault on Appellant; and other evidence of the victim's violent behavior toward her. Appellant asserted that the victim had started the fight, and that she feared for her own life and that of her mother. The Commonwealth, however, produced the autopsy report which showed a defensive wound on the victim's hand. Additionally, Appellant's mother testified that when the victim retrieved a knife from the kitchen, it was knocked from his hand, and that Appellant used the knife to stab the victim.

Appellant was convicted by a jury and her post-verdict motions were denied. This appeal follows.

Appellant first alleges that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the following irrelevant and prejudicial testimony that she was receiving public assistance.

: You stated that on the night of August 17th you were preparing to go to work eventually that evening?

A: No, the next morning.

Q: The next morning?

A: Yes.

Q: Where did you work?

A: Charges Diner in Moosic.

Q: Was that your soul [sic] means ...


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