Appeals judges hear Wecht's argument against new trial

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Three judges from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals spent 40 minutes this afternoon listening to arguments in the case of the United States of America vs. Cyril H. Wecht.

Dr. Wecht, the former Allegheny County Coroner, has asked that the charges against him be dismissed because he claims U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab, who presided over the lengthy trial earlier this year, did not follow proper procedure in declaring a mistrial on April 8.

A jury of 11 people sent a note to the judge that day saying that it was "essentially deadlocked" on the 41 counts and that they believed they'd "exhausted" their deliberations.

Judge Schwab found that the jury was hung and ordered a mistrial. However, he did so without consulting the prosecution or defense and without questioning either the jury foreman or individually polling each juror.

Dr. Wecht's defense lawyers argued that the procedural deficits infringe on their client's right to be free from double jeopardy.

The government, however, said that Judge Schwab had polled the jury four days earlier and that the defense had requested at that time that a mistrial be declared.

The appellate judges on the case are D. Michael Fisher, D. Brooks Smith and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen, who was not in the courtroom but participated via conference call.

The court gave no indication as to when it might issue a decision. In the last appeal it heard from Dr. Wecht before the trial even began, it took a different three-judge panel seven months to release its decision. That case involved three issues, including whether Judge Schwab should be removed because of possible bias.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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