Feds may seek out-of-town jury for next Wecht trial

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The U.S. government today hinted that it might want jurors for the retrial of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht to be selected from outside the Pittsburgh area because of concerns that the local jury pool might be tainted.

Federal prosecutors included the mention of an out-of-town jury in a footnote to a brief opposing Dr. Wecht's request to delay the retrial, which is scheduled for May 27. The government has not made a formal request.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings said the government would accept a trial delay only to accommodate defense attorneys' schedules or "if such a continuance were to become necessary to empanel a jury untainted by defendant's unethical media campaign.

"In such a case, a short continuance might permit the court to consider empaneling the jury from a pool of prospective jurors from a different division within the district (such as Erie)," Mr. Stallings wrote. "The government submits that defendant's campaign to generate prejudicial pretrial publicity over the past week may make it difficult to empanel a jury in this division."

Mr. Stallings complained about the Wecht team's fierce criticism, widely reported by local media including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of the prosecution and U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab, who is presiding in the case.

Prosecutors said the defense team "coordinated a false and prejudicial media blitz of staggering proportions . . ." and described a "parallel fictional universe created by defendant and amplified by the media . . ."

Mr. Stallings rejected defense claims that the prosecution of Dr. Wecht has been politically motivated. Dr. Wecht, a Democrat, and his lawyers have contended that he is being targeted for prosecution by Republican U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

Dr. Wecht is charged with 41 counts alleging wire fraud, mail fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds. A jury deadlocked on the charges last week and Judge Schwab declared a mistrial.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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