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'Hung jury' question suggests holdouts in Wecht trial

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Jurors in Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's public corruption trial on Thursday asked a question that suggested some disagreement as they finished a second week of deliberations.

They sent a note to U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab indicating they might be deadlocked on at least one of the fraud and theft charges against the former Allegheny County coroner.

"Out of the 41 counts, if any one or more count the jury can not come to unanimous agreement on, does that constitute a hung jury?" the question read.

Schwab said it does not.

Wecht, 77, of Squirrel Hill is accused of using his public office for private gain. Jurors heard testimony from 44 witnesses over seven weeks.

The jurors' question was their second in the combined six days they have deliberated since March 18. Last week, jurors asked for copies of the laws Wecht is accused of breaking. That request was denied.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors rejected an offer from Schwab to ask the jurors how many of the counts they have agreed on.

"Quite frankly, receiving that information would help everyone in making more meaningful decisions," Schwab said.

Art Patterson, a jury consultant in State College, said he would definitely want to know that information. He said Schwab has the discretion to ask that question without the lawyers' approval.

Yesterday's question is telling, Patterson said.

"It tells you that one or more jurors are holding out," he said. "Odds are, at least on one question, one or more are holding out for an acquittal."

The question then becomes how many are holding out. Patterson said one person eventually would be "squashed at some point" by the others, but two or more would be able to support each other.

"In that case, it's more likely to be hung," Patterson said.

Jurors will resume deliberations Tuesday. Schwab does not make them report on Fridays, and he has other matters to attend to Monday.

"You're entrusted with a great responsibility, and by now I bet you're feeling that responsibility," Schwab told jurors before they left. "I appreciate your work. I know it can get tiresome back there."

Most of the jurors appeared worn down when they appeared in the courtroom. While they were leaving, however, some of them were talking loudly and laughing in the hallway.

In his note responding to the jurors' question yesterday, Schwab wrote:

"It is your duty, as jurors, to consult with one another and to deliberate with a view to reaching an agreement if you can do so without violence to individual judgment. Each of you must decide the case for yourself, but do so only after an impartial consideration of the evidence in the case with your fellow jurors. In the course of your deliberation, do not hesitate to re-examine your own views, and change your opinion if convinced it is erroneous. But do not surrender your honest conviction as to the weight or effect of evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict."



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