After two weeks of deliberations in the federal fraud trial of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, jurors recessed yesterday for a four-day weekend with no verdict but an intriguing question.
Shortly before noon, while in their 30th hour of deliberations, the jury sent U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab a written query, the second since the case's trial phase ended:
"Out of the 41 counts, if any one or more count the jury cannot come to unanimous agreement on, does that constitute a hung jury?"
After consulting with prosecutors and Dr. Wecht's defense team, the judge sent this response: "The answer to your question is, 'No.' "
A truly hung jury can occur only if jurors cannot agree unanimously on any of the counts against the former Allegheny County coroner.
Both defense attorneys and prosecutors rejected a suggestion by the judge that the jury be polled to determine on how many counts it is unanimous.
The 41 charges against Dr. Wecht comprise multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds.
Prosecutors questioned 44 witnesses over 22 days to try to prove to jurors that Dr. Wecht defrauded his private clients and used county resources to enrich himself.
The rest of Judge Schwab's response to jurors read: "It is your duty as jurors to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching an agreement if you can do so without violence to individual judgment.
"Each of you must decide the case for yourself, but do so only after an impartial consideration of the evidence in the case with your fellow jurors. In the course of your deliberations, do not hesitate to examine your own views, and change your opinion, if convinced it is erroneous.
"But do not surrender your honest conviction as to the weight or effect of evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict."
Jurors have come in from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for their six days of deliberations so far. The judge has not held court or deliberations for the Wecht trial on Fridays so he can handle other court affairs. He told jurors yesterday, however, that if they are still deliberating by the end of next week, they might have to work Friday, especially since he is giving them Monday off because he has to attend to "other matters."
"We're on a long journey together so I appreciate your labors and the inconvenience you're going through. Obviously we have some more to do," Judge Schwab told the jury of six men and six women before dismissing them until Tuesday. "I encourage you to get good rest over the next four days and continue your task."
Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1962.