Wecht jurors surprised prosecutors seek retrial
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With Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's lawyer looking on, five of the jurors in the famous pathologist's mistrial made a group media appearance yesterday and said they favored acquittal on most of the 41 counts brought by the government.
On KDKA Radio and later at a meeting with other news organizations, the jurors said they were split 8-3 in favor of acquittal on 27 fraud counts.
They said they were split 6-5 in favor of conviction on 14 other fraud and theft counts.
The jurors also said they didn't think the government should retry Dr. Wecht and expressed dismay that federal prosecutors didn't talk to them before telling the judge they would go to trial again.
"I was surprised because no one knew what the counts were. And for the government lawyers to stand up that quickly and say, 'Your honor, we're retrying him,' I was just shocked," said Robert Bible Jr. of New Brighton, the jury foreman. "I would have thought we would have been polled. I would have thought they would have wanted to have some idea what the count was."
Several former federal prosecutors contacted by the Post-Gazette after the mistrial was declared on April 8 also found that odd, although some also pointed out that the decision could have been made ahead of time after the jury first indicated it was deadlocked.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab has set a new trial date for May 27.
Jerry McDevitt, one of Dr. Wecht's lawyers, watched the jurors being interviewed at WPXI-TV's offices after the radio appearance and later talked and joked with them in the parking lot for at least a half- hour.
But he and the jurors said the media blitz was their idea, not his.
"What, you think I'm a puppeteer?" asked Mr. McDevitt.
The jurors said they felt they needed to respond to a letter released by the prosecution two weeks ago in which an unidentified juror said the jury was split 6-5 in favor of conviction on 17 counts.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that the letter shows that "the majority of jurors were actually prepared to convict the defendant."
Yesterday the five jurors said that gave a false impression because the juror didn't say how the panel split on the other 24 counts.
"We were pretty put out by this letter," said Linda Chizmar of Shaler.
On KDKA Radio's Marty Griffin show, juror Kimberly Jones of New Castle read a rebuttal letter from the five indicating the 8-3 split favoring acquittal.
The jurors also said they suspected the case was politically motivated, as Mr. McDevitt has argued, particularly because no one polled them after they said they couldn't reach a verdict.
"They never knew throughout the trial or after the deliberations what the count was. It didn't seem to matter," said Dawn Cashmere of Slippery Rock.
"I don't think any of us ever said it was a witch-hunt," said Mr. Bible. "But it kind of seemed like at the end it got a be a little politically motivated."
He and the others said they felt the government had not proved that Dr. Wecht intended to defraud anyone, that the case seemed picayune and almost silly at times, and that a second trial will likely produce the same result.
"I think they're going after the man for all the wrong reasons," said Ms. Cashmere. "All he did was fax some items, mail some items. But is that truly a criminal offense? No, I don't think so."
First Published April 29, 2008 12:00 am