43 of 84 Wecht charges dropped

Judge rules that the government may not refile them later

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A federal judge yesterday granted a motion to dismiss 43 of the 84 criminal counts against former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Under U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab's order, the U.S. attorney's office will not be allowed to refile the charges later.

"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," the judge wrote in his 12-page opinion.

Jury selection in Dr. Wecht's case on the remaining 41 counts begins Thursday. Opening statements are slated for Jan. 28.

Last week, the government moved to dismiss 43 of the mail and wire fraud charges against Dr. Wecht, 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings had asked to dismiss the charges without prejudice, which means they could have been refiled later.

Defense lawyers objected, arguing that dismissal without prejudice would severely affect their trial strategy.

Judge Schwab said the more narrow set of charges would allow the jury to better focus its attention and "contribute to the conservation of strained judicial resources."

He also granted two other defense requests. The government will not be permitted to add 10,000 pages of exhibits it had asked for, and the defense will be permitted to use exhibits related to the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University.

Those exhibits had been submitted by the prosecution earlier in the case, but as part of its motion last week, the government moved to withdraw them. Dr. Wecht's attorneys argued that they were important to their client's case.

On Wednesday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a second request by Dr. Wecht to remove Judge Schwab from the case.

There is one appeal pending with the court, a challenge by local news organizations, which believe that the jury hearing the Wecht case should not be anonymous.

Judge Schwab ruled that the juror names will be kept from the public and news organizations, because of the "unprecedented" media coverage of the case.

The 3rd Circuit has agreed to consider the matter, and it is scheduled for Tuesday.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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