Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dr. Cyril Wecht on Challenges of Cold Cases

Dr. Cyril Wecht discusses forensic challenges of cold cases
By MILES LAYTON, Herald-Standard
UPDATED 6:39 PM EDT Apr 06, 2013

1963: In Dallas, Texas, U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated and Texas Gov. John B. Connally is seriously wounded when a sniper fires shots from the Texas School Book Depository at the president's motorcade. Suspect Lee Harvey Oswald is later captured and charged with the murder of both Kennedy and police officer J. D. Tippit, whom he shot while fleeing the scene. Oswald would be shot two days later by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby while in police custody.

PITTSBURGH —Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht scientifically questions everything that may be involved as part of a forensic investigation needed to potentially solve a cold case.

"You've got to be made to understand that you are a scientist," he said. "You are not there for the prosecution or defense. In a civil case, you are not there for the plaintiff or the defendant. There is nothing wrong with arriving at opinions, being a strong adversary. I'm not suggesting you play Mr. Wimp. Once you arrive at your opinions and conclusions, be prepared to explain and to defend them in a very hard fashion. You have to maintain objectivity in your approach initially to the case, your methodology and your analysis," Wecht said.

The world-famous pathologist has worked on numerous cases in his career, from those that have made headlines to those quiet tragedies known only in the areas in which they occurred. A former Allegheny County Coroner, Wecht still consults on most cases throughout the region involving an untimely death or murder. He has written books and scores of articles about pathology.

Large posters of President John F. Kennedy adorn the walls of Wecht's downtown office. Though an arrest was made, Wecht considers the Kennedy assassination the ultimate cold case. He questions the evidence, how the investigation was handled and the autopsy results. He doesn't accept the Warren Commission's report that put forth the "magic bullet" theory.

"If you go with the Kennedy case and the Warren Commission report, then it is not a cold case," he said. "But 85 percent of the American public feel that it is a cold case because when they say they don't believe Lee Harvey Oswald did it, that he was the sole assassin, that makes it a cold case."

Wecht described the Kennedy cold case as the hardest he has ever studied. That's saying something coming from a man who has performed thousands of autopsies and consulted on high-profile cases. Wecht wonders how a bullet wound moved four inches up Kennedy's skull a few years after the original examination of the body. He questions the government's evidence, such as why Kennedy's brain is missing.

"I would say the Kennedy case is the hardest because the federal government is involved. Have they lied, destroyed and hidden evidence? I don't know," he said. "The president's brain -- is it destroyed or is it hidden? I don't know. Photographs, X-rays and slides are missing. Destroyed or hidden? You come up against a stone wall," he said.

Wecht questions the Warren Commission's findings from 1964 and the U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark's panel report from 1968 because the bullet hole in Kennedy's head moved four inches.

"Who was right?" he asked. "Were they right with the body in front of them in 1963 or was the Ramsey Clark panel right in 1968? Who's right? What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world. Where did the shot come from? That's why it is the most difficult case."

The lessons applied to Kennedy's death can be applied to other cold cases. He said the key is to question everything with an open mind, not just accept the facts as presented.

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