Carlow University's former president testified this afternoon that she never discussed or approved any agreement to give Dr. Cyril H. Wecht free lab space in exchange for him providing cadavers from the Allegheny County morgue to the school's autopsy technician program.
Grace Ann Geibel, who retired from Carlow in 2005 after 17 years at the helm, said the topic never came up during many discussions she had with Dr. Wecht during development of the program, beginning in 2003.
Sister Grace Ann told defense attorney Jerry McDevitt she found government allegations that Carlow, a Catholic university, gave lab space for Dr. Wecht's private autopsy practice in exchange for cadavers to be used in the student autopsy technician courses he was teaching "reprehensible" -- Mr. McDevitt's word -- particularly since federal investigators did not interview her before indicting Dr. Wecht in January 2006.
"Do you find that charge reprehensible?" Mr. McDevitt asked.
"I do," Sister Grace Ann said. "I really do."
Sister Grace Ann was the fifth witness today as the sixth week of Dr. Wecht's federal fraud trial wrapped up. She is expected to return to the stand Monday as cross-examination continues.
This morning, the aunt of a woman whose body was sent to Carlow for a student autopsy said she never gave permission for any procedures there and viewed such a transfer as a "desecration" that should not have been done without her niece's permission.
Barbara Whitehouse of Elk County said she was never told by the Allegheny County Coroner's Office that Amy Gray would be part of the autopsy program during conversations she had with representatives there, including former chief deputy coroner Joseph Dominick.
"I did not give permission for anybody to do anything. I don't believe in desecration of the body," Ms. Whitehouse told Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings.
She also said she did not ask whether her niece would be autopsied, telling defense attorney Mark Rush, "I had no reason to."
Ms. Whitehouse indicated that her niece, with whom she had an on-again, off-again relationship, had mental health and addiction issues. She testified that she was not aware her niece was in a personal care home and died of cancer until learning of a death notice.
Although Ms. Whitehouse said she claimed Ms. Gray's remains Oct. 4, 2004, the day after her niece died, she testified that she never took possession of the body and still does not have her ashes, which remain at a funeral home across the street from her house awaiting burial.
The prosecution presented a letter from the Meehan-Shilk Funeral Home in Ridgway, Elk County, on July 20, 2005, notifying the coroner's office that Ms. Gray's family wished to bury her and would cover the expenses.
Ms. Whitehouse said she did not have the means to pay for cremation so she let the coroner's office handle those arrangements.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.