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Commonwealth v. Levesque

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
436 Mass. 443 (2001)


Thomas Levesque (defendant) and Julie Ann Barnes (defendant) (collectively Defendants) lived on the second floor of the vacant five-story Worcester Cold Storage warehouse. Because the Defendants’ living space had no electricity, they frequently used flashlights, candles, and a heater for light and warmth. During an altercation one evening, the Defendants knocked over a lit candle and a fire started. Defendants unsuccessfully tried to put the fire out, which spread rapidly until everything in the room began to burn. Defendants left their belongings and pets and exited the warehouse but did not report the fire even though they had a number of opportunities to do so. Two hours later, a passerby reported the fire. After arriving at the scene, firefighters were informed that there may be persons inside the warehouse and, instead of fighting the fire, went into the building in search of individuals. During the search, six fire fighters were killed. Defendants were each charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter by a grand jury. Thereafter, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that they had no legal duty to report the fire and that their failure to act did not satisfy the wanton and reckless standard of conduct required for involuntary manslaughter charges. The motion judge agreed and granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the charges. The Commonwealth appealed and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted direct appellate review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Cowin, J.)

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