Erie judge hears arguments regarding federal Wecht trial

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Former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht spent his 78th birthday in federal court yesterday as his defense lawyer fought again to have the criminal charges against him dismissed.

There were no celebrations for the well-known forensic pathologist, but the line of questioning by U.S. District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin at the supplemental argument could hint where he might be leaning.

Dr. Wecht was originally charged in the case in January 2006 with 84 counts, but after many were dropped by the prosecution, just 14 remain.

The defense is seeking to have all of those thrown out.

Judge McLaughlin, who was assigned to the case after Dr. Wecht's first trial ended in a hung jury, heard arguments on a number of issues in his Erie courtroom in January. He ordered additional argument -- done by video teleconference -- for yesterday.

During the more than two-hour hearing, Judge McLaughlin spent much of his questioning on two search warrants in the case -- one that was executed on Dr. Wecht's private offices, and another for the laptop computer used by his administrative assistant.

Wecht attorney Jerry McDevitt contends that both warrants were so general that they were invalid.

One issue the court focused on was that the FBI, which served the warrants, did not incorporate with them the affidavit of probable cause that would spell out in very specific terms what crime was being investigated.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if somebody had taken the time to incorporate the affidavit into the warrants, would we?" the judge asked Assistant U.S. Attorney James R. Wilson.

"We would not be having this particular conversation," he agreed.

The judge did not give any indication when he might rule.

After the hearing, Mr. McDevitt would not speculate as to what the judge might be thinking. Instead, he said he was pleased to have the chance to argue before him.

"I'm ecstatic at the process that he's doing these things," he said. "It should have been done all along."


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


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