Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht visits 'CSI-IUP'
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 26, 2012 09:07
A forensic pathologist is not a homicide detective.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, the famed forensic pathologist who has given his assistance is numerous high-profile cases throughout the decades, spoke passionately at IUP Friday, July 20.
Wecht visited IUP as part of the “CSI-IUP” Cook Honors Program held each summer for high school students.
In light of certain television shows, he wanted to make sure his listeners understood the difference between the profession of forensic pathology and how it relates to criminal investigations, as the two can sometimes become muddled when given the Hollywood treatment.
“CSI depicts that you will be out there and you'll do the autopsy,” Wecht said, “or you'll go to the crime scene, and you'll look at the blood splatters, and you'll pick up trace and biological evidence, and then you'll go out the next day and you'll find out who did it.
“No. That's not what you're going to do and that's not what you're supposed to do.”
Introduced by Indiana County coroner Mike Baker, Wecht explained the history of forensic science and the position of the coroner.
From the beginning of civilization, all societies needed some way to pursue justice for wrongful deaths. As medical procedures such as surgeries or transplants hadn’t been invented yet, forensic pathology developed as a way of explaining mysterious or sudden deaths and became one of the first medical specialties.
Wecht explained that forensic science has many disciplines, and students interested in the field should not feel they have to make up their minds immediately as to what they want to focus on.
Only two paths, forensic pathology and forensic psychiatry require a medical degree. The remaining fields, such as forensic anthropology (physiology in a legal setting), forensic entomology (insects in criminal matters), engineering (the malfunction of material leading to damage or injury), or forensic toxicology (the medical or legal investigation of death, poisoning and drug use) do not require a medical degree, but students should consider pursuing a masters degree or doctorate.
The floor was taken for a short time by autopsy technician Joe Mancuso, who has worked with Wecht for several years. Mancuso walked the listeners through a photographic presentation of an actual autopsy.
Wecht then returned to speak on some of the high profile cases he’s worked on during his profession.
He spoke at length of his time on the John F. Kennedy assassination, the case which brought him the most fame. Conspiracy theories were tossed around as Wecht gave his opinion of the Warren Commission’s findings on what has become known as the “single-bullet theory” and how it falls apart under scrutiny.
Wecht also briefly discussed his theories surrounding some other notable cases such as the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the death of Elvis Presley and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.
In the end, he hoped the students would “get an idea about what [forensic science] involves and some initial impressions about what they're embarking upon.”