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Chairman Conyers Deeply Troubled by FBI Juror Interviews in Cyril Wecht Mistrial

April 11, 2008

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers released the following statement in response to reports today that the FBI is attempting to interview jurors in the Cyril Wecht mistrial:

I am deeply troubled by reports of FBI agents contacting former jurors who failed to convict Dr. Wecht. Whether reckless or intended, it is simply common sense that such contacts can have a chilling effect on future juries in this and other cases. When added to the troubling conduct of this prosecution, there is the appearance of a win at all costs mentality. The committee continues to investigate this matter.

FBI Contacts Jurors After Wecht Mistrial
WTAE TV – April 11, 2008

Two jurors in Dr. Cyril Wecht’s federal trial told WTAE Channel 4’s news exchange partner, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that the FBI wants to talk with them.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab declared a mistrial after the Wecht jury said it was deadlocked on Tuesday. A new trial for the ex-Allegheny County coroner is scheduled for next month.

Two of the deadlocked jurors said the FBI called them this week and asked for interviews.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan’s office said it’s common for an investigating agency to call jurors when a case ends in a deadlock. Margaret Philbin, a representative for Buchanan, said the FBI was simply setting up appointments so prosecutors could discuss the case with the jurors.

The jurors said they found the found the FBI's request unusual and intimidating.

Wecht’s attorney, Jerry McDevitt, told the Trib he was “troubled” by the FBI’s contact with jurors.

Wecht faces a 41-count indictment, mostly on wire and mail fraud charges. Prosecutors allege that he used the coroner’s office to benefit his private pathology practice.

Democrats Were Targets in Inquiries, Panel Is Told
Philip Shenon, New York Times – October 24, 2007

Richard L. Thornburgh, attorney general in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, charged Tuesday that political reasons motivated the Justice Department to open corruption investigations against Democrats in Mr. Thornburgh's home state, Pennsylvania.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Thornburgh became the first former Republican attorney general to join with Democratic lawmakers to suggest that the Justice Department under Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales had singled out Democratic politicians for prosecution.

Later in the story:

Mr. Thornburgh noted that Ms. Buchanan had conducted a series of high-profile corruption investigations against Pennsylvania Democrats in the months before the 2006 midterm elections, including the one against the former coroner, Cyril Wecht.

“During this same period, not one Republican officeholder was investigated and/or prosecuted by Ms. Buchanan's office — not one,” Mr. Thornburgh said, noting that there had been accusations of corruption against two prominent Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania in that same period. He said that Dr. Wecht, a nationally prominent forensic pathologist, “would qualify as an ideal target for a Republican U.S. attorney trying to curry favor with a department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance.”

Dr. Wecht, who is scheduled to go on trial next year, has been charged with 84 criminal counts, including theft and mail fraud, much of it involving his use of a government fax machine and postage meter. Mr. Thornburgh described the prosecution as “bizarre.”

Watch Mr. Thornburgh’s testimony (pdf) from the October 23, 2007 hearing:

Thornburgh: “It should also be noted that of these three high profile, very public, Democratic prosecutions, one resulted in a misdemeanor macing plea; one resulted in no plea and an alternative resolution; and Dr. Wecht’s case remains pending. All three Democrats were frontpage stories during the run-up to the 2006 election. The damage was done by widespread media coverage with little apparent concern as to whether justice was meted out. During this same period not one Republican officeholder was investigated and/or prosecuted by Ms. Buchanan’s office. Not one. Although a whistleblower in Republican Congressman Tim Murphy’s office accused the Congressman of using paid staff members in his election campaign, no investigation was conducted that we are aware of.”