Mistrial declared in Wecht case; new trial set for May 27
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The jury in the public corruption trial of former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht has failed to reach a verdict on any of the federal charges against him, and a judge today declared a mistrial.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab made the announcement at 9:25 a.m. today after the jury told him it remained hopelessly deadlocked following 10 days of deliberations.
The government immediately announced it would try the case again and Judge Schwab set May 27 for the start of a new trial.
But he gave the defense until April 18 to file motions to fight a new trial and have the charges dismissed.
And he strongly advised jurors not to discuss the case, either with reporters or with attorneys for either side, until after any second trial.
- McDevitt: 'What happened in that courtroom today was an utter disgrace'
- McDevitt: 'This jury was very fair'
- McDevitt: 'You should be able to debrief the jury'
- Thornburgh: 'These charges should never have been brought'
- Thornburgh: 'This case is so inconsequential ...'
Members of Dr. Wecht's defense team reacted strongly to the prosecution's immediate announcement that it would retry the case.
"We've said all along that these charges should never have been brought," said Dick Thornburgh, himself a former federal prosecutor. "And clearly after the expenditure of untold millions of dollars and the devotion of time and resources of the Department of Justice to this case -- a nickel-dime prosecution, when there is rampant crime, terrorism, other kinds of threats that affect the American people -- to spend all this time on this case, and to announce immediately that they want to retry it after they have utterly failed -- utterly failed -- in their efforts to convict Dr. Wecht, is a miscarriage of justice."
Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt reiterated his belief that the prosecution was politically motivated. Dr. Wecht is a Democrat and U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is a Republican.
To demand a retrial without reviewing the first trial and to not give Dr. Wecht a respite, "that is vindictive, that is mean-spirited, and it is against everything that United States attorneys . . . are supposed to be about," Mr. McDevitt said.
At a press conference this morning, Dr. Wecht said, "The toll on my family has been horrendous.
We've been living under this cloud for all that time. The emotional drain has been absolutely unbelievable."
Mr. Thornburgh said he has been in touch with the U.S. Attorney General's office about the case.
Ms. Buchanan issued the following statement in response to the mistrial:
"We are committed to eliminating the culture of corruption that prevails when officials at the highest levels abuse the public trust.
"Allegations of wrongdoing by public officials can be both challenging to investigate and to prove. A deadlocked jury means only that the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the charges presented."
Dr. Wecht, 77, was charged with 41 criminal counts, ranging from wire and mail fraud to theft of honest services.
Prosecutors allege that while Dr. Wecht was the coroner, he used county resources -- including his staff, fax machines, phone lines, vehicles and even unclaimed bodies -- to benefit his private multimillion-dollar autopsy and consultation business, Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates.
The trial has spanned 10 weeks and 44 witnesses - all of whom were called by the prosecution. The defense team chose not to put Dr. Wecht on the stand, nor to call any other witnesses.
"Think about how precious little evidence was ever really produced in this case about Dr. Wecht," Mr. McDevitt told jurors during his closing argument.
Prosecutors called a parade of Dr. Wecht's former employees, private clients, his corporate accountant and his two trusted one-time secretaries before the jury, using their testimony to allege that Dr. Wecht defrauded private clients through inflated airfare bills and invented limousine rides, and used coroner's office employees as messengers, couriers and chauffeurs to save money on gasoline, cab fares, shuttle service and parking.
But more than one witness called in to testify on behalf of the government, including Sister Grace Ann Geibel, the former president of Carlow University, clearly supported Dr. Wecht. Some witnesses who testified to alleged wrongdoing -- such as deputy coroners describing personal errands they were told to run -- even conceded they liked the forensic pathologist and learned from him.
Last Wednesday, Judge Schwab dismissed one juror for medical reasons over the objections of Dr. Wecht's defense team.
The next day, the remaining 11 jurors told Judge Schwab that they had reached an impasse after nine days of deliberations.
Judge Schwab sent the jurors back to deliberate again yesterday.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First Published April 8, 2008 9:30 am