The federal judge hearing the case of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht granted a motion today to dismiss 43 counts against him.
The government moved to dismiss some of the mail and wire fraud charges a week ago, claiming that it would help streamline the case and save the court time. It also included in the motion that it had recently discovered evidence that some of the packages believed to have been mailed were actually hand-delivered.
In its request, federal prosecutors asked to dismiss the charges without prejudice, which means that they could have been refiled at a later date. The defense objected to that, arguing that it feared the government was acting in bad faith and that dismissal without prejudice would severely affect their trial strategy.
U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab agreed, ruling today that the charges would be dismissed with prejudice, especially considering that jury selection in Dr. Wecht's case is scheduled to begin on Thursday.
"It simply would not be fair to Dr. Wecht, at this late stage of the proceedings, to allow the specter of future prosecution on the dismissed counts to hang over his head throughout jury selection and trial," Judge Schwab wrote in his 12-page opinion.
He also said that he felt the more narrow set of charges would allow the jury to better focus its attention, which will "contribute to the conservation of strained judicial resources."
Judge Schwab also granted two other defense requests in his order. The government will not be permitted to add 10,000 pages of exhibits it had asked for as part of its motion to dismiss, and the defense will be permitted to use exhibits related to the Wecht Institute at Duquesne University. Those exhibits had been submitted by the prosecution earlier in the case. But as part of its motion to dismiss, the government moved to withdraw them. Dr. Wecht's attorneys, though, argued that they were important to their client's case.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.