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Involuntary manslaughter consists of the killing of another person without malice and unintentionally, but in doing some unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in doing some lawful act in an unlawful way. Where the act in itself is not unlawful, to make it criminal the negligence must be of such a departure from prudent conduct as to evidence a disregard of human life or an indifference to consequences.
Defendant was the owner of a cigar store. Defendant sold Sterno in two types of containers, one for home use and one for institutional use. Thirty-one people died in the area as a result of methyl alcohol poisoning. Defendant was convicted and sentenced on five counts of involuntary manslaughter. Defendant appealed, arguing that his convictions on the charges of involuntary manslaughter cannot be sustained either on the basis of a violation of the Pharmacy Act of September 27, 1961, P. L. 1700, § 1, 63 P.S. § 390-1 et seq. (pp), or as a result of any criminal negligence on his part.
Could the defendant’s convictions for involuntary manslaughter be sustained?
Yes, for four out of five counts.
The court affirmed the trial court's judgment of conviction and sentence in four of the appeals and reversed the trial court's judgment of conviction and sentence in one of the appeals. The court was satisfied that the record clearly established that defendant, in the operation of his small store with part-time help, knew that he was selling Sterno in substantial quantities to a clientele that was misusing it. The court found that in order to profit more from such sales, he induced a certain company to procure for him a supply of the institutional product. According to the court, defendant was aware of the "poison" notice and warning of harmful effects of the new shipment but nevertheless placed it in stock for general sale by himself and his employees.