Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Day 2 of the Dr. Cyril Wecht Trial

Yesterday the jury heard opening arguments in the federal trial of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. Dr. Wecht has been indicted on 41 counts that include trading cadavers to Carlow University in exchange for the use of office space for his private pathology business, wire and mail fraud, and inflating bills to his private clients. He is also charged with using county office space, equipment and personnel for private business tasks and errands. An investigation into Dr. Wecht's practices began in February 2005. On January 20, 2006 a federal grand jury released an 84-count indictment. The same day Dr. Wecht resigned from his position. Earlier this month the counts were reduced to 41.

Today the prosecution resumed its questioning of Dr. Edward Strimlan, the chief forensic investigator for the Allegheny County medical examiner's office. Dr. Strimlan revealed that the morgue had sent "storaged" or unclaimed cadavers to Carlow University despite the fact that their paper work had specified the bodies not be autopsied. He told the jury that one body was delivered to the morgue and a little over three hours later was rushed to Carlow University. Under further questioning he explained that this was not common practice--they typically take time to try and find the decedent's family to claim the body. He speculated that they sped up the process to avoid having the body embalmed because Carlow had requested the bodies be untreated.

Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt began his cross-examination by peppering Dr. Strimlan with questions about his recollection of conversations with the FBI. Responding to McDevitt's line of questioning it became clear that Dr. Strimlan had used the County Coroner office for his own private business. Dr. Strimlan and a number of colleagues had created t-shirts with the office insignia on it and stored and sold this "reaper wear" as they were called, on the premises. It appeared that McDevitt was attempting to show that Dr. Wecht was in good company when he blurred the line between his public and private practices.

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