PITTSBURGH - The criminal case against celebrity pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht ended today when federal prosecutors, citing a judge's ruling that threw out much of the government's evidence, dropped all the remaining fraud and theft counts against him.
Prosecutors originally indicted Wecht, the former Allegheny County medical examiner, on 84 counts in January 2006. The case was whittled down before trial, which ended in a hung jury, and trimmed again after trial. Wecht had 14 counts remaining, but the government's case was undermined when a judge threw out two search warrants.
"The district court's May 14th ruling suppressed crucial evidence in the case," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said today. "This impacted our ability to present our evidence at any future trial and to sustain our burden of proof."
Wecht, 78, is renowned for his work on deaths such as those of Elvis Presley, JonBenet Ramsey and Vince Foster. He has testified in numerous high-profile cases and was a frequent TV guest in the months preceding the 1994 O.J. Simpson homicide trial.
The final counts dropped today had accused him of overbilling private clients for limousines and air fares; ripping off prosecutors for mileage fees as an expert witness; and using his county government staff to benefit his multimillion-dollar private practice.
When Wecht was first indicted and resigned his county job, the main accusations against him were the same, but they were more detailed and, in one instance, more macabre. Among other things, Wecht was accused of giving unclaimed county cadavers for students to study at a local university in return for private lab and office space.
Wecht's attorneys said he was busy conducting autopsies today so they wouldn't comment until he was available for an afternoon news conference.
"It's Cyril's day," defense attorney Mark Rush said.
His supporters claimed the case was a multimillion-dollar effort to convict him of crime for, at most, minor abuses of power and his government staff.
Buchanan defended the prosecution.
"This was a use of county resources, a use of our taxpayer dollars for private gain," Buchanan said. "That's fraud, that's a crime and this case was worth bringing."
Buchanan maintains Wecht routinely used his county deputies to run personal and private business errands, and that his chief county administrative assistant spent nearly all her time on private cases. She acknowledged, however, that prosecutors should not have brought such a wide-ranging indictment against Wecht in the first place.
"As prosecutors, we sometimes err on the side of wanting to give the jury everything we have," Buchanan said. "Had we had it to do all over again, we'd probably err on the other side."