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12/29/77 COMMONWEALTH v. EDMUND J. GODIN

December 29, 1977

COMMONWEALTH
v.
EDMUND J. GODIN



Plymouth. Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court on September 15, 1972. The cases were tried before Brogna, J. The Supreme Judicial Court granted a request for direct appellate review.

Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Kaplan, Wilkins, & Liacos, JJ.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Homicide. Wanton or Reckless Conduct. Pleading, Criminal, Indictment. Practice, Criminal, Directed verdict, Charge to jury. Evidence, Qualification of expert witness, Judicial discretion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Liacos

Indictments alleging that the defendant, as president of a corporation, owed a duty of reasonable care to its employees in the maintenance of its premises and that "in reckless disregard of such duty" and "in reckless disregard of the harmful consequences . . . of his failure to perform said duty," he did "willfully, wantonly and recklessly neglect and fail to fulfil" his duty to each of three decedent employees and as a result "did assault and beat said and by such assault and beating did kill said " were legally sufficient to set forth the crimes of manslaughter [125-127]; there was no merit to the defendant's claim that the indictments did not contain the specificity required by art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution [128].

At the trial of a defendant, who was president of a corporation engaged in manufacturing fireworks, charging him with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three employees who were mortally injured in an explosion at the plant, evidence from which the jury could conclude that prior to the explosion the amount of fireworks stored in the building where the employees were killed had reached unprecedented levels, that the defendant had been warned of the dangers posed by such accumulations, that nothing had been done to remedy the situation, and that increments in such storage increased the risk of explosion and resulting harm in a proportion commensurate with the extent of increase in storage warranted the denial of the defendant's motion for directed verdicts of not guilty. [128-130]

At the trial of a defendant charged with manslaughter, the Judge's charge to the jury adequately distinguished reckless and wanton conduct from negligence, and, in the context of the entire charge, there was no prejudicial error in the instructions on reckless and wanton conduct. [130-131]

At the trial of a defendant, who was president of a corporation engaged in manufacturing fireworks, charging him with manslaughter in connection with the deaths of three employees who were mortally injured in an explosion at the plant, there was no error in admitting the testimony of an expert who had received some of his training from his father, a former employee of the corporation [131]; nor was there error in the admission of testimony as to the condition of the bodies of the decedents after the explosion [131-132]; nor was it error to admit testimony as to manufacturing procedures used at the corporation at times other than the commencement of the work of each of the decedents or at the time of the explosion [132].

On March 30, 1972, an explosion occurred in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, at a manufacturing plant housing Pyro Products, Inc., a corporation engaged in the manufacture of fireworks. As a result of that explosion, three employees of the corporation were mortally wounded. The grand jury handed up three indictments which charged that the defendant committed manslaughter by causing the deaths of the three employees. After jury verdicts against the defendant he was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord. A notice of appeal was filed with the Appeals Court and we granted the defendant's application for direct appellate review. We find no error.

The assignments of error which have been argued concern (1) the adequacy of the indictments charging the defendant; (2) the admission of certain evidence; (3) the Judge's failure to direct verdicts in the defendant's favor; and (4) the propriety of the Judge's instructions to the jury. We state the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Sandler, 368 Mass. 729, 740 (1975).

The defendant was president of Pyro Products, Inc. The corporation was duly licensed under both the State and local laws and had all bonds and permits required by law to operate a fireworks manufacturing company. The Judge below ruled the corporation did not have to comply with the fire safety regulations issued pursuant to G. L. c. 148, § 13, as amended though St. 1945, c. 710, §§ 5-8, as it had begun operation prior to the effective date of the statute and was, therefore, exempt from complying with its provisions.

The plant itself was a complex of some twenty-one separate buildings. Buildings two and three were the locations of the initial stages of manufacture. Building seven was the building where the insertion of fuses and other matter necessary for the fireworks to lift off was accomplished, as well as where a process known as drying took place. Building eight was for shipping, and buildings nine through eighteen were evidently storage buildings. The process of manufacture began in building two with the rolling of the tubes for the fireworks, and the processing of black powder. The "flash," which gives the fireworks their multi-colored luminescence was manufactured in building five and loaded into the tubes at building two.

Of particular import is the process which took place in building number seven, the building in which all three decedents were working at the time of the explosion. That building was used primarily for drying the completed fireworks. At the time of the accident two other functions took place therein; the finishing off of the fireworks by putting the final required wrapping around the tubes and the insertion of so called lifting charges. Lifting charges were the power source which enabled the fireworks to reach their desired altitude for detonation. A secondary use of building seven at the time of the explosion was to store a great number of uncompleted fireworks. These uncompleted fireworks had accumulated because of a strike which forestalled completion of partially manufactured fireworks. The strike lasted from September, 1971, until the beginning of 1972.

There was evidence from which the jury could conclude that prior to the end of the strike no more than 1,000 to 1,500 fireworks were stored in building seven, but after the end of the strike and up to and including the time of the explosion, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 shells were stored there. There was evidence from which the jury could conclude that the storage of large numbers of unfinished shells in the building severely limited and hampered the ability of those persons involved in the manufacturing process to move about and do their job without undue difficulty. Several employees worked in building seven in proximity to completed and uncompleted shells in boxes in an area described as "congested" by the ...


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