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Wecht gets role on cold case unit

| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 9:02 p.m.
Dr. Cyril Wecht
Dr. Cyril Wecht

Cyril Wecht doesn't need the extra work.

The famed Pittsburgh forensic pathologist, who has investigated suspicious and controversial deaths from John F. Kennedy to JonBenet Ramsey, has a lot on his plate. But the opportunity to work with other great forensic minds at the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases was too great to pass up.

“I'm delighted to be involved with this. It's a contribution that I feel I can make to the overall field of forensic science, not that I need the additional work,” said Wecht, 82, the former Allegheny County coroner from Squirrel Hill.

“It's something I can be enthusiastic about, and working with distinguished colleagues always makes it very meaningful,” he said.

The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases is the unsolved homicide version of “Super Friends,” said the nonprofit's founder, Kenneth L. Mains, a detective in the Lycoming County District Attorney's Office in Williamsport, about 180 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Mains spent the past year recruiting “the best of the best” investigators, including several retired homicide detectives, FBI agents and crime lab experts.

“I had my own cold cases that I was working and found that there was no place I could turn to for help,” Mains said. Recruiting members “was like creating a college football team — recruiting the very best there is and hoping they go out and do it.”

The review board includes Joe Kenda, a Westmoreland County native and retired Colorado Springs police lieutenant who stars in the Discovery Channel show “Homicide Hunter”; Mark Safarik, a criminal profiler who worked with the FBI's behavioral analysis unit; and Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic scientist who provided testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial, among several others.

Getting Wecht — the author of more than 550 professional publications and someone who conducted more than 17,000 autopsies and supervised, reviewed or consulted on approximately 30,000 postmortem exams — was a dream, Mains said.

“In my opinion he is one of the best, if not the best, forensic pathologists ever,” he said.

Police agencies must contact the association and turn over reports in order for the experts to review cases and offer opinions and suggestions. The team has reviewed a half-dozen cases since forming in March.

“In every case, we've found something the original investigators overlooked,” Mains said. “To say we solved them, that's up to the law enforcement entity. We just give suggestions and insight of where to look.”

Wecht recently investigated the December 2009 death of actress Brittany Murphy and the November death of actor Paul Walker. He said it's important to review cases as soon as possible because clues disappear.

“Key witnesses and people die, records are sometimes lost, destroyed or misplaced, memories fade, stories change,” he said. “Reviewing these cases now is important. There's no question that fresh eyes can be revealing.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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