Ramsey v. Com., 4840

Citation200 Va. 245, 105 S.E.2d 155
Case DateOctober 13, 1958
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Henry Breckinridge Vance and Robert C. Smith, for the plaintiff in error.

C. F. Hicks, Assistant Attorney General (A. S. Harrison, Jr., Attorney General, on brief), for the Commonwealth.


SNEAD, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

On July 2, 1957, Harry Lucas Ramsey was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary for one year on an indictment charging that on February 13, 1957 he did wilfully, maliciously and feloniously set fire to or burn his dwelling house, with goods and chattels therein, which were insured at the time against loss or damage by fire, with intent to injure the insurer. § 18-158, Code 1950. Ramsey's motion to set aside the verdict was overruled and judgment was entered thereon.

The evidence may be summarized as follows:

Ramsey purchased an old building for $250. With the assistance of his father and neighbors it was dismantled and reconstructed on property, approximately four miles north of Buena Vista on State Highway No. 706, which he had acquired. Additional materials purchased and used in reconstructing the frame dwelling, which consisted of four rooms and rested on unmortared cinder block pillars, amounted to $292.

On January 4, 1957 Ramsey applied to Earl Starkey, an insurance agent in Buena Vista, for fire coverage in the sum of $4,000. After describing the premises Ramsey was informed by Starkey that he could not write insurance in that amount but he 'might' write it for $3,000. Whereupon Ramsey stated: 'Well, I have over $2,000 in material in this dwelling. ' Ramsey paid the required premium. The next day Starkey inspected the dwelling and wrote Ramsey advising that $1,000 was the maximum coverage he would be willing to write and refunded the premium paid. Ramsey then contacted another agent in Buena Vista, a Mrs. Paxton, who issued a standard fire insurance policy for $2,500 on the dwelling and $500 on personal property contained therein, effective January 5, 1957. This policy was in force when the dwelling and its contents were destroyed by fire.

Deputy Sheriff Elmo Cooper testified that a two and one-half ton International truck with the rear portion resting on cinder blocks had been parked with the front end facing east or toward the dwelling and approximately 15 feet from it for several months prior to the fire, and that sometime between the afternoon preceding the day of the fire and the next morning the position of the truck had been reversed so that the front end of the truck faced west or away from the house. Robert Hall, who assisted Ramsey in moving the truck, stated the land sloped and the change was made to place the rear end of the truck higher than the front end in order to prevent grease from running out of the rear end.

At about 6:45 P.M. on February 13, 1957, Ramsey and his family left their home and drove to East Lexington Church which is a distance of six and one-half miles. There was a fire burning in a stove at the time of departure. Upon arrival Ramsey parked his vehicle and his family entered the church. He walked to East Lexington Grocery Store which is near the church. While there he called Pete's Taxi at 7:25 P.M. and inquired as to the round trip fare to Mountain View School which is near his residence. A taxi cab operated by Robert E. Fox soon thereafter picked up accused and drove him to the vicinity of his home. Ramsey told Fox he wanted to be back at the church by 7:55 P.M. so that no one at the church would realize that he was gone. He also stated to Fox: 'I have a deal cooked up but I don't have to tell you what it is.'

Ramsey left the taxi cab in the vicinity of Mountain View Church, at a point about 75 yards from his home and he headed in that direction. The evidence is silent as to whether or not he entered his dwelling. Fox proceeded a short distance in order to turn his vehicle around. After a lapse of between two and three minutes Ramsey re-entered the taxi cab about where he left it at approximately 7:45 P.M., arrived at East Lexington Church at about 7:55 P.M. and took a seat in the church where he remained until he was notified around 9:45 P.M. that his dwelling was on fire. Fox stated that it was a cold dark night; that he did not observe any lights in the direction of Ramsey's dwelling; that Ramsey was not indulging in intoxicants; that he did not smell the odor of kerosene or gasoline about him; that he showed no signs of exertion or of excitment, and that Ramsey just wanted to 'go and come.'

The fire was first seen by neighbors at 9:30 P.M. Flames were coming out from under the eaves, but the walls were standing. Responding to a call, the Buena Vista fire department arrived at the scene about 9:50 P.M. at which time the building was completely destroyed.

Several days after the fire, Ramsey contacted Fox, the cab driver, and requested Fox not to mention to members of his church that he had driven him down to the vicinity of his home on the evening of the fire, for it would put him in a bad light with them.

The size of the dwelling was approximately 18 feet across the front and 24 feet deep. It had a metal roof and a unlined cinder block chimney near the center which fell during the fire. Between 30 and 40 feet from a corner of the house there was a power line pole. On it was a small transformer and a power line connected which led toward the destroyed dwelling house. It was touching the ground short of where the residence formerly stood. There was no authorized electrical service going into the house.

Included among the articles found in the debris were a cast iron cook stove, a cast iron heater, evidence of electrical appliances, a gasoline power saw, several small metal cans and a five gallon can, bits of wire similar to extension cord wire, a small clamp identified as the type used to make electrical connections, and an old model fuse box.

Several witnesses testified in behalf of the accused, but he elected not to take the stand.

In addition to challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, Ramsey contends the lower court erred in permitting the Commonwealth to propound a hypothetical question to Augustus S. Hydrick, Special Agent for National Board of Fire Underwriters.

The hypothetical question follows:

'Assuming that a person is occupying a dwelling as described in the evidence in this case, assuming that there is no direct evidence of exterior wiring into the dwelling and no meter or fuse box connected to wiring from the transformer to the dwelling, assuming further that on Tuesday, February 12, 1957, a 2 1/2 ton truck of the occupant was parked close to the dwelling with the cab of the truck facing the dwelling and on Wednesday February 13, 1957, the truck was turned around and moved so that it was approximately 30 feet away from the dwelling with the cab facing away from the dwelling, assuming further that the occupant had invested less than $600.00 in material in the dwelling when he applied for a $4,000.00 fire insurance policy thereon and represented to the fire insurance agent that he had over $2,000.00 in material invested therein, assuming further that the occupant of the...

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22 cases
  • State v. Beavers, 17778.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 17, 2009
    ...176 App.Div.2d 815, 816, 575 N.Y.S.2d 140, appeal denied, 79 N.Y.2d 825, 588 N.E.2d 103, 580 N.Y.S.2d 205 (1991); Ramsey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 245, 249-50, 105 S.E.2d 155 (1958); Callahan v. Commonwealth, 8 Va.App. 135, 139-40, 379 S.E.2d 476 (1989). This per se rule is incompatible with......
  • Timmons v. Peyton, Misc. No. 4518.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • April 28, 1965
    ...We agree with the respondent that such a conclusory statement would not have been admitted at the original trial. Ramsey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 245, 249, 105 S.E.2d 155, 158; Jones v. Commonwealth, 202 Va. 236, 117 S.E.2d 67, 71. Petitioner's reliance upon Forehand v. Sawyer, 147 Va. 105,......
  • Vince v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0533-14-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • February 18, 2015
    ...fact because it did not attach culpability to the appellant's actions.3 Admission of opinion testimony is limited. Ramsey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 245, 249, 105 S.E.2d 155, 158 (1958). In the context of expert witness testimony, an opinion offered is inadmissible "when the evidence, exclusi......
  • Coppola v. Com., 781741
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • August 30, 1979
    ...904, 108 S.E.2d 380, 383 (1959); Strawderman v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 855, 859, 108 S.E.2d 376, 379-80 (1959); Ramsey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 245, 249-52, 105 S.E.2d 155, 158-60 The existence of a disorder in Mills's personality could have been the subject of a proper hypothetical question......
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