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Court delays Wecht's 2nd trial

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Friday, May 9, 2008

An appeals court on Thursday agreed to delay the start of Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's second federal public corruption trial.

Jury selection was set to begin Monday until a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay to consider whether U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab erred in the way he declared a mistrial. Schwab dismissed the first jury April 8 after they said they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Judges D. Brooks Smith, D. Michael Fisher and Franklin S. Van Antwerpen unanimously agreed to postpone the retrial until they decide the appeal.

Wecht's lawyers contend Schwab improperly dismissed the jury and that a second trial would violate the former Allegheny County coroner's constitutional right not to be tried twice on the same offense.

"We're just grateful the 3rd Circuit has stayed the trial and is going to give consideration to our argument," said defense attorney Jerry McDevitt.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Wecht, 77, of Squirrel Hill is accused of using his public office for private gain. Jurors in his first trial could not agree on a verdict for any of the 41 counts of fraud and theft.

Prior to Wecht's original trial date in 2006, the 3rd Circuit issued a stay -- which lasted six months -- to consider several issues, including whether to remove Schwab from the case.

The appeals court ruled 2-1 to let Schwab remain on the case.

Schwab yesterday refused to step down from the case for a third time.

Another pending appeal, filed by local news outlets including the Tribune-Review, concerns whether Schwab properly followed an earlier appeals court ruling that he must release jurors' names.

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