Tuesday, April 15, 2008
When I first heard that the FBI was contacting the jurors who deadlocked in the trial of Cyril Wecht, I wasn't much surprised. It's not illegal, and when a jury deadlocks, lawyers on both sides often want to talk to jurors before another trial. Getting the Federal Bureau of Investi-freakin'-gation to set up a routine meeting seems a bit heavy-handed ... and maybe not the best use of law-enforcement resources. But we're used to that from US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan by now. This entire fiasco has been overblown, literally making a federal case out of the fact that Wecht (for example) sometimes used a government fax machine for private business. Horrors!
The FBI visits were a bit ironic, though. You may recall that before the trial began, the prosecution and Judge Arthur Schwab's sought to keep the jurors' identities secret. Prosecutors argued that conealing their identities would prevent Wecht from trying to intimidate jurors. Wecht has a habit of sending letters to people he disagrees with. Still, if jurors scared that easily, you'd think the feds would want to protect them from the trauma of being contacted by federal law-enforcement agents. Apparently, you would be wrong.
And now, I'm wondering if more than hypocrisy is at work here.
What's prompting my doubts is a P-G piece today by the talented and lovely Jonathan Silver. In it, Silver suggests the feds might try to seek an out-of-town jury for a second Wecht trial. Prosecutors haven't formally made the request, Silver notes, and only raise the possibility in a footnote. But in a legal filing, the prosecution suggests that Wecht has engaged in a "campaign to generate prejudicial pretrial publicity over the past week" -- a campaign that could "make it difficult to empanel a jury" from Pittsburgh. What was really out of bounds, the filing said, was "the Wecht team's fierce criticism [of the prosecution], widely reported by local media."
Yeah, who do Wecht's lawyers think they are, criticizing the people who are trying to put him in prison?
But here's the thing. One of the actions Wecht's team and the media have criticized is ... the use of FBI agents to contact jurors. And you have to assume that even before she called out the agents, Buchanan knew doing so would make waves. As she knows better than anyone by now, this is one of the most closely watched trials in local history, with one of the most media-savvy defendants in town.
Which makes you think: What if Buchanan called out the FBI precisely because she knew Wecht would complain about it? Under other circumstances a prosecutor might try to keep a lower profile ... but what if Buchanan has decided that, since that's impossible anyway, she will try to cause as much furor as possible? If she wants an out-of-town jury, any additional outrage will become another exhibit for the allegation that coverage of Wecht's complaints have poisoned too many local minds.
See where I'm headed with this? Buchanan could be using one hamfisted tactic as an excuse for getting away with another one -- taking the unusual step of getting an out-of-town jury.
In fact, if Wecht wants to keep the jury local, complaints about Buchanan's tactics could backfire on him. The P-G's coverage about the FBI visits, for example, includes a quote from Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who frets that "such contacts can have a chilling effect on future juries in this and other cases." Imagine how easy it would be for prosecutors to turn that allegation against Wecht. If such complaints are valid, they could argue, then the best way to avoid that "chilling effect" is to get a jurors from someplace less likely to have heard them. And if Wecht's complaints aren't valid, they would say, well ... then prosecutors have a right to find jurors who haven't been tainted by such scurrilous accusations. Heads I win, tails you lose.
Of course, it's quite possible that I've simply become deranged in trying to figure out a logical justification -- any justification -- for why this idiotic trial lingers on. The dizziest conspiracy theory makes more sense than the prospect of another trial. In today's filing, prosecutors complain of a "parallel fictional universe created by defendant and amplified by the media"; perhaps I've fallen through the rabbit hole, just like the prosecution suggests, by trying to find an explanation for their behavior?
Then again: What if I'm right? What if Buchanan is counting on people like me to raise sinister accusations about her behavior, so she can achieve the truly sinister goal of getting a jury from elsewhere? That would mean I've become part of the conspiracy to get Wecht, without even knowing it. Worse, I'd become part of the conspiracy merely by pointing the conspiracy out.
This blog post is my only hope of escaping the trap. Judging from comments posted on previous entries, hardly anyone in Pittsburgh bothers to read this blog ... but Clintonistas and Obamaniacs from across the country can't get enough. So what better place to thwart Bucahan's efforts?
This post will either notify the rest of the world of Buchanan's secret agenda OR expose it to my deranged imaginings. Either way, potential jurors from all over the country will be tainted by what I have written. The local jury pool, meanwhile, will remain in blissful ignorance of what I have said here. Pittsburgh will be the one place where Wecht can be tried.
And justice will, at last, have been served.
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