innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Court to Hear Evidence in Wecht Case

This article by Paula Reed Ward ran in Wednesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Judge won't suppress Wecht evidence

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A federal judge yesterday refused to suppress evidence seized in a search of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's private offices last year.

That means that documents found in 29 boxes at the Penn Avenue location can be used against him at his criminal trial scheduled to begin in October. Dr. Wecht is charged in an 84-count indictment with misusing his public office for private gain.

His attorneys filed a motion to suppress evidence seized in the April 8, 2005, search, claiming that FBI agents did not adhere to the terms of the warrant.

In a 17-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab said the search and seizure "fit squarely within the scope" of the warrant and that the agents and support staff who executed it acted in "good faith."

Defense attorneys tried to claim, in particular, that one box taken from Dr. Wecht's office should never have been opened.

Box No. 20, which was in the same location as the others, was labeled for "the Wecht Law Firm," which is operated by Dr. Wecht's wife, Sigrid. Defense lawyers said that box should have been off-limits to the FBI.

Judge Schwab disagreed.

"The court has reviewed the contents of box 20, and finds that there are no letterheads, pleadings, statements, correspondence or other documents contained therein that were prepared for, generated by, reviewed by, or used by the Wecht Law Firm," he wrote. "On the contrary, the items in box 20 all appear to have been prepared for ... Wecht Pathology ... for example, invoices and billing records for reimbursement for private autopsy consultations, private limousine services and airfare."

Judge Schwab noted in his opinion that though Mrs. Wecht provided an affidavit with her husband's motion to suppress, she did not testify at the hearing on the matter.

Also yesterday, Judge Schwab issued an order relating to two disciplinary reports against the lead FBI agent investigating Dr. Wecht's case.

Bradley Orsini was transferred to Pittsburgh from Newark, N.J., where, Dr. Wecht's attorneys claim, he was disciplined for urging witnesses to lie to cover up his own misconduct.

Defense attorneys plan to use the information to question Mr. Orsini's credibility, and they, along with several local news organizations, requested that the reports be removed from a protective order so that they can be made public.

Yesterday, Judge Schwab agreed to unseal the reports. But at the same time, he stayed his order, giving the U.S. attorney's office the opportunity to appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Even though the material is quite likely irrelevant and not admissible at trial, the government has not established a compelling interest or good cause to justify the continual sealing of [the document]," the judge wrote.

U.S Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said last night that she was unsure if she would appeal. If she does, the appeal must be filed by noon June 29.


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