PITTSBURGH – A federal judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the fraud case against celebrity pathologist Cyril Wecht, who was accused of using his staff at the county coroner's office to do work for his lucrative private practice.
Federal prosecutors said they were ready to retry Wecht, who gained fame by inquiring into the deaths of well-known figures including Elvis Presley, JonBenet Ramsey and Vincent Foster. A new trial date was set for May 27.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab made the announcement after the jurors, for the second time, gave him a note saying they were unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges against Wecht. Jurors deliberated the 41 counts for more than 50 hours over 11 days.
Wecht's lead attorney, Jerry McDevitt, called the prosecutors' decision to retry Wecht "a bizarre ending to one of the most unfair trials in history."
"It's disgraceful to make sure [Wecht] does not have even one day of respite from what everyone knows is a malicious prosecution," McDevitt said.
Wecht, who resigned as county coroner after the federal charges were filed in 2006, said he continued to be hired by other Pennsylvania prosecutors and private parties during nearly three months of jury selection, trial testimony and deliberations. Wecht said he conducted almost 100 autopsies and testified in two other counties in homicide cases during that time.
"These people continue to use me and I think that says something in and of itself," Wecht said at a news conference.
The charges included 29 counts of wire fraud, 24 of which involved invoices or other correspondence from his private practice or personal speaking engagements sent on county fax machines. Five other counts stemmed from allegations that Wecht overbilled his private clients for air fare or limousine rides he never took, using bogus invoices from a defunct travel agency.
Wecht's attorneys argued the charges were administrative oversights — the first 24 counts of the indictment dealt with faxes it cost the county $3.96 to send — that didn't rise to the level of federal crimes.
But prosecutors said Wecht earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from those invoices, not to mention the use of his top county administrative assistant, Eileen Young. Young essentially ran Wecht's private practice from her county office, despite making as much as $69,000 annually from the county, prosecutors said.
In the early 1980s, Wecht beat similar state charges that accused him of using Allegheny County morgue employees to examine slides for his private practice. He was ousted over those charges, but later settled a related suit for $200,000 and returned in 1996 as coroner.