Criminal defense lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently obtained a full acquittal from a Philadelphia jury in the case of Commonwealth v. K.E. for a client charged with Murder and Possession of an Instrument of Crime (“PIC”).
According to the police, K.E. and the decedent worked together at the airport. They became involved in a verbal argument after K.E. was part of a group of co-workers which broke up a physical fight between the decedent and another co-worker in the break room. Prosecutors claimed that the decedent pushed K.E., and K.E. then stabbed him one time in the leg, severing the femoral artery and quickly causing the decedent to bleed to death. The Commonwealth argued that K.E. did not act in self-defense and that he showed consciousness of guilt by allegedly fleeing the scene, hiding the knife, and telling the police that he had stabbed the decedent with keys after being punched. Police arrested K.E. a few minutes from the scene of the incident when K.E. walked over to a patrol officer and told the officer that he was the person they were looking for and that he had been punched and responded by stabbing the decedent with his keys. At that time, K.E. did not know that the decedent had died, and he later gave a statement to detectives in which he claimed self-defense but maintained that he had committed the stabbing with his keys. Three days later, however, an airport employee found a bloody knife near where the stabbing occurred, and police quickly concluded that that knife must have been used in the stabbing. Accordingly, they charged the defendant with Murder and PIC.
Fortunately, K.E. retained Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Zak Goldstein. At the time, the defendant had initially been held on $250,000 bail. However, Attorney Goldstein was quickly able to file a motion for release on house arrest pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Speedy Trial Rule (Rule 600B) and have the defendant released pending trial. This made it much easier to prepare for court and investigate the case.
K.E. decided to proceed by way of jury trial, meaning that a jury panel of twelve Philadelphians would be tasked with deciding whether K.E. committed the stabbing with malice or whether he had acted in self-defense. Because prosecutors charged K.E. with third-degree Murder, they would not have had to show that K.E. had intentionally killed the decedent in order to obtain a conviction. Instead, they needed to show only that K.E. had acted with malice – meaning he had acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury with an extreme indifference to the value of human life.
Through effective cross-examination of the Commonwealth’s witnesses, Attorney Goldstein was able to show that the defendant had not in any way meant to kill the decedent and had instead acted in self-defense. The evidence ultimately showed that although K.E. had a reputation for being a peaceful, non-violent person who had never been involved in any kind of violence before, the decedent had attempted to fight a supervisor shortly before the incident, had attacked a different co-worker just minutes before the incident, and had then attacked the defendant from behind by knocking him to the ground prior to the defendant stabbing him one time in the leg with a small knife in self-defense.
Attorney Goldstein also presented the testimony of the defendant. He testified that he had been part of breaking up the fight between the decedent and the other co-worker and that he had then been attacked from behind by surprise as he turned to walk away. After he was knocked to the ground, he felt that the decedent was going to continue assaulting him, and he quickly defended himself by stabbing him one time in the leg with a knife. He admitted to and apologized for not being totally honest with the police about the keys, but he adamantly refuted the Commonwealth’s allegations that he had acted out of malice, been the aggressor in the fight, and that he did not need to defend himself with deadly force. Ultimately, many of the witnesses agreed that the decedent had actually been the aggressor, and it was also an extremely unexpected result that the decedent would unfortunately die from one stab wound to the leg with a two inch knife. Attorney Goldstein was also able to get the Medical Examiner who conducted the autopsy to agree that based on the nature of the injury, the decedent could have been moving at the time that he was stabbed, suggesting that he may have been moving towards K.E. to continue assaulting him. Thus, Attorney Goldstein argued both that K.E. had acted in self-defense and that he had not acted with malice because one would not expect a person to die from a relatively small knife wound to the leg.
After deliberating for nearly eight hours, the Philadelphia jury of twelve citizens returned a verdict of Not Guilty to both charges. K.E. was acquitted of Murder and Possessing an Instrument of Crime. This verdict is an example of the law of self-defense in Pennsylvania. If a person is in genuine, reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, then they may defend themselves with deadly force. Even if that force results in death to another person, the person has not committed a crime because you have the right to defend yourself.
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