Habeas Corpus • Preliminary Hearing • Sufficiency of Evidence • Direct and Circumstantial Evidence

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Dominick, PICS Case No. _______ (C.P. Lackawanna Jan. 17, 2014) Nealon, J. (22 pages).

The court determined that the preliminary hearing testimony yielded direct and circumstantial evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case of first degree and third degree murder, both as principal and accomplice, and showed culpability for criminal conspiracy to commit those offenses. Habeas corpus petition denied.

Bonacci was reported missing after attending a party. A week later his body was found in his crashed vehicle. Forensic evidence revealed that he had been shot in the head and a large rock placed on the accelerator of his Jeep to send the vehicle over an embankment.

There was considerable proof of motive based on Bonacci’s past intimate relationship and continuing contact with a woman with whom the emotionally unstable Dominick was involved.

On July 27, Bonacci’s body was found in his car at the same location where Dominick had previously challenged Bonacci to a fight. Forensic evidence showed that Bonacci had been shot in the back of the head, a large rock had been placed on the Jeep’s accelerator plummeting the vehicle over an embankment. Based on statements made by Pal to a witness, the investigators concluded that Pal was driving the vehicle when Dominick shot Bonacci in the head.

Viewing the preliminary hearing testimony in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and affording the prosecution the benefit of all reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence, the direct and circumstantial evidence sufficiently established that Dominick killed Bonacci with malice and specific intent to kill.

Dominick’s actions in trying to hide the crime by sending the car over an embankment, burning the clothing he had been wearing and providing false and contradictory statements to the police provided evidence indicating guilt.

The evidence introduced during the preliminary hearing demonstrated a prima facie case of first degree murder and the lesser offence, third degree murder, against Dominick as the principal and adequately established his alternate culpability as an accomplice. Dominick’s actions before and after the disappearance of Bonacci are sufficient to establish a prima facie case of conspiratorial culpability.