It's over: There is no need for a second Wecht trial
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The federal prosecutor has had her shot at Cyril Wecht. It's time to call it a day.
Despite hundreds of exhibits, 44 witnesses, 10 weeks in court and 10 days of deliberations, the jury in the public corruption trial of the former Allegheny County coroner failed to reach a verdict yesterday on any of the charges. This was a case, don't forget, that began with 84 criminal counts, which were then reduced to 41, covering mail fraud, wire fraud and theft from an organization receiving federal funds.
On Tuesday it added up to a big zero. Still, the prosecution immediately announced it would retry the case, and U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab set a new trial date of May 27.
That would be a travesty, not to mention a waste of public dollars. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan put forth the best case her office could muster and, in the end, could not secure a conviction. The prosecutor should let it go. There's no point in yet another trial -- especially considering that Dr. Wecht was unsuccessfully tried by the county on similar criminal charges a generation ago.
We say this as no great fans of Cyril Wecht. While we respect him as a renowned forensic pathologist, we are well acquainted with his temper and his penchant for firing off angry letters at his critics. It has also been a long time since we have supported him politically.
When his defense argued early on that this was a political prosecution -- he being a prominent and high-achieving Democrat and Ms. Buchanan being a rising star in the Bush Justice Department -- the Post-Gazette editorial board didn't want to hear it. We said let the facts play out in court -- and they just have.
A second trial for a 77-year-old man who is not a threat to public health or safety will only raise fresh -- and this time more substantive -- charges of a political agenda at work. It will be seen as a persecution, not a prosecution, and that will tarnish the integrity of the U.S. attorney's office, regardless of who is in charge.
There are real crimes out there for the feds to bring to trial -- drug rings, mobsters, terrorists. The case against Cyril Wecht is over. It's time to file it away.
First Published April 9, 2008 12:00 am