A 57-year-old man accused of fatally pushing another resident in a Northeast Philadelphia veterans home earlier this year was acquitted by a judge yesterday of involuntary manslaughter.

William Houston, who had been on house arrest at the Delaware Valley Veterans Home pending trial, returned to the group home following his acquittal on the first-degree misdemeanor charge.

Public defender Marc Bookman, who represented Houston with his colleague Karl Schwartz, said afterward: "The judge came back with a fair verdict. Not every accident is a crime. I'm sure Mr. Houston is very sorry for the accident."

Houston had been accused of killing 83-year-old Walter Kelly after the two squabbled over who was first in the cafeteria line at the veterans home, on Southampton Road near Roosevelt Boulevard, on the night of Feb. 18.

Yesterday, after hearing testimony from both sides, Municipal Judge David Shuter said he could not find that Houston behaved in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, as required by the involuntary-manslaughter statute.

In a statement to police, Houston said he had gotten his tray of silverware in the cafeteria line when Kelly approached and "said he was there first. I said, no, he wasn't. We got into a slight argument. I pushed him. He pushed me. . . . I guess I pushed him harder than I thought. I guess he lost his balance."

He said he was "sorry this happened; I'm very upset."

Kelly was pronounced dead the next day at Frankford Hospital-Torresdale.

A defense witness, Muriel Tilley-Boggs, director of nursing at the home, testified yesterday that Kelly had a reputation of having "a quick temper" and sometimes acting impulsively, whereas Houston has been known to be "very mild-mannered."

A resident of the home, John Wilson, who saw the argument, testified as a defense witness that he saw Kelly being confrontational with Houston, getting in his face, and saw Houston push Kelly.

Sheila Kirwin, a cafeteria worker, testified as a prosecution witness. She saw the two men arguing and pushing each other. She then heard a thump and saw Kelly fall to the ground.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore contended in her closing argument that Houston had pushed Kelly with enough force to knock him backward and to the ground, causing his death.

Bookman argued that the "open-hand push" was one in which a person would not have been able to anticipate that Kelly would have fallen to the ground.*