The latest from Pittsburgh
, where the U.S. attorneys' office continues to drop jaws with its handling of the case. From The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Two jurors said Thursday they were unnerved by FBI requests for home visits to explain why they deadlocked in the federal public corruption trial of former Allegheny County coroner Cyril H. Wecht.
Experts said the practice of using FBI agents to contact and interview jurors in their homes after mistrials was unusual, but the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh characterized it as "commonplace."
"I thought it was kind of intimidating," the jury foreman said about the FBI phone call.
Said another juror, "I found it kind of unusual."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's Office in Pittsburgh tells the paper that prosecutors just wanted to chat about the case with the jurors, a "commonplace" practice. The FBI agents were simply setting up the appointments. It is true that it's commonplace for lawyers from both sides to speak to jurors after a trial to get feedback. But there are two important distinctions here.
First, prosecutors didn't seek to poll or speak to jurors before
making their determination as to whether to retry the case. If they had, the jurors would have said that most of them
were ready to vote to acquit. "That seemed to us to be vindictive," Dick Thornburgh, the former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and a lawyer for Wecht, told me. "It's how [the prosecutors] have behaved the whole case." The jury foreman has even said
that the prosecution seemed "politically driven." (See our rundowns of the case here
And second, using the FBI to contact jurors is far from commonplace (Jerry McDevitt, another of Wecht's attorneys, told me that the agent who'd contacted the jurors was not even the agent who had worked on the Wecht case). Thornburgh told me that it was "unprecedented" in his experience. A former federal prosecutor told the Tribune-Review
that it was unusual. And a veteran defense attorney from the Pittsburgh area told the paper that he'd never heard of such a thing. And there's a reason:
"If I'm a prospective juror in the second trial, and I'm hearing stories that if I don't agree with the government that I might get calls from the FBI, that could have a very, very deleterious impact," [the attorney] said. "I would think that's very bothersome to have that happen."