Wecht trial: Carlow official grilled about cadavers
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The government today produced the most compelling argument to date indicating a body-trading agreement between Dr. Cyril H. Wecht and Carlow University.
But where the prosecution essentially asked jurors to infer a quid-pro-quo deal, defense attorney Jerry McDevitt focused them on the testimony of former Carlow president Sister Grace Ann Geibel, who reiterated that she never discussed or made such an arrangement. She has testified that she wanted to woo Dr. Wecht to benefit from his knowledge and use his expertise to enhance the school's reputation and boost recruiting efforts for its student autopsy technician program.
Allegations that Dr. Wecht used his public office as Allegheny County coroner to benefit privately form the basis of the 41-count federal indictment against him alleging fraud and theft. One of the schemes the government has accused him of is trading unclaimed bodies to Carlow in exchange for free lab space.
While government documents -- including a September 2005 addendum to the contract between Dr. Wecht and the school -- do not explicitly spell out a trade, they clearly indicate that Carlow paid for morgue cadavers to go to the school since 2004 and that Dr. Wecht got free lab space for his private practice.
A handwritten note by Dr. Wecht's private autopsy technician, Joe Mancuso, about a 2004 course proposal, said, "Specimen -- Allegheny County coroner's office will allow indigent corpses or storage cases to be brought to Carlow -- the cost of transporting the specimens will need to be paid by Carlow."
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings at the opening of the seventh week of trial, Sister Geibel today told jurors that cadavers were being sent from the morgue to Carlow regularly, that Dr. Wecht was responsible for getting the bodies, that she relied on him to comply with the law, and that the issue of bodies and lab space was the subject of internal discussions at the school.
The 2005 addendum to the contract, made after Sister Geibel retired, said Dr. Wecht would be granted lab space at Carlow, and that "the primary instruction mode will be autopsies provided by Wecht Pathology Associates, augmented by additional cadavers procured by Wecht Pathology Associates Group . . ."
Among the documents Mr. Stallings showed jurors were purchase orders and checks cut to a livery service to pay for bodies going between the morgue and Carlow in 2004 and 2005.
Sister Geibel, the architect of the school's student autopsy technician program, repeated earlier testimony that she never discussed any kind of arrangement with Dr. Wecht to give him lab space for free in exchange for the cadavers.
She also said Dr. Wecht never discussed with her how much he was paying for lab space at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science or how his rent at the East Liberty facility was going to increase dramatically.
Mr. Stallings asked whether Dr. Wecht told her "how financially valuable his ability to use Carlow's lab space was to him?"
"I don't recall that," Sister Geibel answered, "but I sure do recall thinking about how incredibly valuable it was for him to do the autopsies as the basis of our academic program."
Mr. Stallings produced a handwritten note from 1981 by one of the people whose bodies were taken from the coroner's office to Carlow, Charlotte Kegel, which stated in part, "please definitely do not make me a donor of any of my organs."
Mr. Stallings then mentioned how the sister of Charles Dumont, another person whose body was sent to Carlow, would never have consented to using his body for educational purposes. He asked Sister Geibel whether respect was shown to the dead in those cases.
"Anyone's stated wishes that are similar to what is before me here should be observed, of course," Sister Geibel said, as Ms. Kegel's note filled the monitors before jurors.
"Carlow relied on the defendant to make sure that all necessary consents and legal obligations regarding the transport of bodies were met?" Mr. Stallings asked.
"Yeah," Sister Geibel replied.
Sister Geibel testified that she had never before seen Ms. Kegel's note and did not know if Dr. Wecht or anyone at the coroner's office had seen it. Mr. McDevitt indicated that the first person to see it was the FBI's lead investigator, Bradley Orsini, in January 2006, the same month Dr. Wecht was indicted.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First Published March 10, 2008 10:51 am