Famed Pathologist: Victim At The Center Of A Capital Murder Case Wasn’t Murdered

The Beaver County Courthouse / Photo by John Paul

The Beaver County Courthouse / Photo by John Paul

A noted forensic pathologist has determined the victim at the center of a capital murder case did not die from the injuries he sustained during a robbery, according to multiple confidential sources.

The Beaver County Public Defenders Office hired Dr. Cyril Wecht to issue a finding as to the cause of death of Daniel Joseph Santia, 82 of Hopewell Twp. Prosecutors say Joseph Michael Arlott, 25, and Beau William Chermer, 22, tortured Santia in his home during the course of a robbery last April. Santia died three weeks following the attack; Beaver County Coroner Teri Tatalovich-Rossi determined Santia died of blunt force trauma to the head and ruled his death a homicide.

Prosecutors subsequently filed capital murder charges against Arlott and Chermer, and are seeking the death penalty against both men.

But after a review of autopsy and medical records, Dr. Cyril Wecht determined that Santia did not die of head trauma as Tatalovich-Rossi had ruled. Instead, claims the report by Wecht, the man died of an acute myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack. Wecht went further, determining that Santia’s heart attack was “a completely separate event not related to injuries received from the robbery.”

Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh said he feels the upcoming murder trial for Arlott and Chermer will now be a “battle of the experts,” but otherwise declined to comment on the report issued by Wecht.

Following questioning by the Beaver Countian, Berosh began an informal investigation into this publication’s sources of information about Wecht’s report, which has not been publicly released. Several criminal defense attorneys were questioned by members of the District Attorney’s office and President Judge John D. McBride, and a pretrial conference was held about information being provided to the Beaver Countian by confidential sources.

A report issued by Dr. Cyril Wecht is at the center of a second homicide trial in Beaver County. The District Attorney’s Office hired Wecht to issue findings in their case against Gregory Scott Hopkins, who was charged with Criminal Homicide in connection with the 1979 death of Catherine Walsh. Judge Harry Knafelc issued an order last November excluding Wecht’s testimony from trial, but prosecutors have appealed that ruling to the superior court. The trial for Hopkins has been delayed for months as a result, with Judge Knafelc granting Hopkins bail and allowing him to attend his daughter’s wedding due to the postponements.

 

42 comments

  1. So I guess now we all know why Berosh was going after John Paul :surprised: Good reporting on this one! :thumbsup:

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  2. It’s upsetting that 2 coroners have opposing causes of death. I am leaning towards Wecht’s conclusion cause he has been a Medical examiner a long time. The scary part is that our coroner gave a conclusion that could ultimately destroy 2 others lives. Hope they call in DR. G. to settle this dispute.

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    • Our Coroner relies on Dr. Jim Smith, who worked with and under Dr. Wecht, who has also been in the medical field for many years.
      :thumbsup:

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  3. WOW WOW, good reporting on this quite the tit in the ringer

    what is even more interesting from previous articles is that the family needed to come to you for more insight.. in the end you still have to feel bad for the santia family trying to get answer and closure to this

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  4. SpeakTheTruthToo

    Regardless of the cause of death, these 2 scumbags need to pay for what they did to this poor 82 year old man. How does Wecht know that being tied up and tortured for hours didn’t cause the heart attack?

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  5. VERY GOOD REPORTING JP!!! YOU HAVE TO GIVE THE FAMILY SOME LOVE!!! BUT WECHT IS ONE OF THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!!

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  6. I definitely believe the need punished for their crime. But i would hate to see anyone executed for murder if they didn’t commit a murder. This is so trivial right now i would not want to be on the jury. I think either prosecution or defense has to call in another expert to clear this up if they want to proceed with the same charges.

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  7. it´s funny to read a comment that says the inaccurate coroner report “could´ve ruined two innocent lives….” are you referring to the two poor innocent men who tied up, tortured, and robbed an 82 year old man?

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    • I find it funny to read a comment that COMPLETELY MISQUOTES something that was said, just a few comments above it.
      I believe the quote you were TRYING to reference was by Seen It All and it was this- ”

      It’s upsetting that 2 coroners have opposing causes of death. I am leaning towards Wecht’s conclusion cause he has been a Medical examiner a long time. The scary part is that our coroner gave a conclusion that could ultimately destroy 2 others lives. Hope they call in DR. G. to settle this dispute.”
      I’m not sure if maybe I’m reading this wrong, but NOWHERE in that statement do I see the word “innocent”.
      I believe that the OP was referencing two people being charged, tried and convicted for a crime that they did NOT commit, UNDER PENNSYLVANIA LAW.
      I, by no means, are saying that they are innocent. Not by a looooong shot. BUT….
      they DO need to be punished for the crimes that they committed. I’m fairly sure that the OP meant that they should be charged accordingly, NOT charged because of the vengence and bloodlust that is being called for from the public.

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  8. it’s funny to read a comment that says the inaccurate coroner report “could’ve ruined two innocent lives….” are you referring to the two poor innocent men who tied up, tortured, and robbed an 82 year old man?

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  9. Wow, im sure that Coroner Teri Tatalovich-Rossi, is not happy about this

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  10. Victoria Woods Decanio

    Wow, im sure that Coroner Teri Tatalovich-Rossi, is not happy about this

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  11. Wecht has been around a long time. Has loads of experience. This is why I think a coroner’s position should be held by someone with an M.D. license. Either way, I feel his cause of death WAS indeed related to what the perps did to him. The man was old and obviously could not sustain that kind of abuse…

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    • A coroner is an elected official. Do you think Wecht was doing autopsies and spending time in court, for hundreds of cases each year, while Coroner for Allegheny County? NO! He relied on what his technicians saw and documented.

      Too many people watch too much TV. Dr. G isn’t doing thousands of autopsies each year, her staff, hand picked and well paid, does the work.

      Teri Tatalovich-Rossi and her father before her are probably the most knowledgeable coroners that the people of Beaver Co. have ever elected. We also have Dr. Smith who is without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable men in his field.

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  12. Wecht is a “money whore” and will sign his name to anything for a price! Interesting that he wrote what each of the the attorney’s who hired him wanted him to say! He is a crackpot!

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  13. How about wecht’s alien autopsy?????? Again crackpot!!!!!

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  14. When I read Cyril Wecht’s book, it became apparent to me that he generally goes in with a preconcieved idea of the cause of death, then “proves” himself correct, often without actually ever even seeing the body. He also almost ALWAYS goes against the first examiners findings. He’s full of himself imho and seems to thrive on the controversy he stirs up. Read one and decide for yourself.

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  15. so today the times has as story about some charges dropped against someone that attacked someone with frozen meat and a story about the commissioners with a 5 mile speed limit in a parking garage and THIS site has this story

    fuck the times and their chicken shit reporting

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  16. Dr Wecht is also an attorney, so he most likely knows that under the Felony Murder Rule, since the Defendants were committing a felony when they robbed and tortured Mr. Santia, it is still murder when he dies following the home invasion regardless of the reason that he died. So in any event, these defendants should be tried for and convicted of murder.

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    • Annnnnnnnnnd sorry no. Thats if someone dies during the COMMISSION of a felony sweety. Three weeks later doesn’t count unless its a direct result of injuries…….. :stupid:

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  17. My Deepest Sympathy goes out to the Santia Family. I would want these men put to death if I’m in their shoes, however 1st Degree Murder is extremely difficult to prove (premeditation). I believe the Prosecution tried to take to big a bite of this apple, and it’s going to backfire. In my opinion they should have gone after Manslaughter.

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  18. Dr. Wecht doesn’t come cheap….when the public defender’s office hires him it means that I am picking up the tab. Everyone is entitled to due process; however, those whose legal fees are being paid by the taxpayers should have some limits regarding the hiring of “expert witnesses.”

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    • we have to pay for experts because this is a death penalty trial and if we dont the state supreme court or the us supreme court will over turn it and we will all be paying for a second trial. dont forget were paying for the prosecution too! this whole thing is costing taxpayers huuuuuge money all because tooney b wants the headlines about wanting death now wecht says noone was murdered!!!!!!!!!!

      :dizzy: :dizzy: :dizzy: :dizzy: :dizzy:

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  19. for the love of Christ

    Pennsylvania won’t put them to death anyways so all it is when asking for death penalty is a hand job got the family grieving.. how about consecutive 50 year sentence..

    seems like a waste of tax dollars all around, I think the district attorney shouldn’t have asked for death, save lots of money and time just let them die in prison on sentence

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  20. Three weeks after an 82 year old man is tortured and beaten and hospitilized, he dies from a heart attack. And Wecht sees no cause and affect? “Study researchers were of the view that acute emotional stress is said to be quite taxing for heart’s health. It has been found that acute emotional stress can cause a heart problem known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.” From the heart institute research. He was only in the condition and place because of his attackers. If not for them, no one would be having this debate. Wecht should be ashamed of himself. His fame dulls everytime he is called for his opinion.

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  21. If the DA is looking to prove that this was a first degree murder case, then they are going to have a very hard time proving premeditation. While I wholeheartedly agree that these people were in the wrong 100% by breaking into this mans house, tying him up and assaulting him, I doubt that they were trying to kill him, and before I get jumped for saying that, I AM NOT CONDONING WHAT THEY DID. I believe that the robbery was the motive, and that falls within the felony range. And yes, if the person dies in the commission of a felony, that ups the charges. BUT…this gentleman died in the hospital weeks later from a heart attack. Now, it can be argued that it’s possible that the heart attack was brought on by the stressors of what he went through, OR it can be argued that his advanced age of 82 and because of that, a heart attack may have been inevitable. None of us here are privy to his medical records, and I am so glad that I am not on this jury, because there are just too many questions that cannot be answered.
    I do believe that these people need to be punished for what they did, but, according to the laws of the land, they need to be punished AS THE LAW STATES.
    Vengence and the law do not go hand in hand. The act of vengence, while it may feel good for a while, never ends up well in the end.

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    • blah,blah,blah!!

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    • SpeakTheTruthToo

      If robbery was the motive, then why tie up and torture an 82 year old man? You’re telling me 2 early 20somethings can’t rob an 82 year old man without getting that physical? I believe robbery and f-ing this guy up so he couldn’t identify them was the motive.

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      • From what was stated in the original article, they were looking for a cache of money that Mr. Santia’s grandson had supposedly hidden in the house. Mr. Santia had said that the knew nothing about it. So they tied him up and tortured him. This is the story that was reported when it happened.

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      • Along with whatever cash and jewelry they got away with, they also stole a 2008 Cadillac CTS. It can be argued that he was tied up and beaten to the point of unconsciousness in order to give the actors time to get away, basically a head start. If he was able to call the police immediately, the two men who had assaulted him would have been caught in no time.
        I’m not saying that this is why this happened the way it did, it is just one argument out of thousands that can be used in court. This is also why I am glad that I’ll never serve on this jury….

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    • I would argue that tying up and torturing someone allows enough time for premeditation to creep in. Maybe they didn’t have the intention when they broke into the house, but if you are committing those acts over a length of time, you then have enough time to consider your actions and their possible results. I would also through out your “or it can be argued” points since those things didn’t happen but the beating and tortue did happen. I do agree that prosecutors in high profile cases sometimes over file but I do believe his death was a direct cause of their visit to his house and the ensuing mayhem.

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      • The problem with every argument presented here is the fact that NONE of us were present there, nor is there video/audio of what happened.
        That is why I am grateful that I am not on this jury.

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      • That is not actually the problem with every arguement presented here. One can actually argue with reason and logic many issues. Otherwise, why do you post so often?

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      • Sadly, I believe that we are having an issue with miscommunication. I’m not trying to be rude or ignorant, by any means. Allow me to explain my stance.
        I under no circumstances, believe the 3 people involved in this crime are innocent of most of the charges levied against them. I DO NOT, however, believe that they went to this mans house with the intentions of causing his death. They have established that they broke in with the intention of robbing him of a red suitcase that was supposedly left there by Mr. Santia’s grandson, and was said to contain around $13,000 in cash. When Mr. Santia directed the robbers to the upstairs bedroom where it was supposedly stored, they couldn’t find it. That is when they drug him up the stairs and he led them to the bedroom. I’ve been unable to find any reports on if they did find the money or not, so I can’t speak on that. But they did steal around $2,000 in cash from a dresser, jewelery, and a 2008 Cadillac CTS.
        One could argue that they tied him up and beat him until he was unconcious so that they had a “head start” in getting away from the crime scene. They may not have expected him to survive, but all of that is pure speculation. There are few actual FACTS known here. 3 people were involved, 2 of them did the actual assault, he was tied up and beaten, and POSSIBLY left for dead. I say “possibly” because one of the assailants knew Mr. Santia, and did yard work for him at his home. Why is that important? Because he would have had knowledge that the victim had a home care nurse that came in to check on him.
        Also, both the Allegheny County and Beaver County medical examiners could not agree on a cause of death.
        I’m not trying to argue that the people responsible for harming this man are innocent, I’m only trying to point out that not you, I, or anyone else reading this were there at the time, and we are not trained medical examiners, so we are not qualified to say what did or did not cause his death.
        There are a 1001 arguments that can be thrown up in court, and once again, I’m glad that I’m not serving on this jury.
        Ans as for your question regarding why I post so often: I do so to maybe make a person or two stop, and think, before rushing to snap judgement. Or even to do some of their own research, and not just accept what is offered up by whatever news outlet of the hour is.

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      • I believe you read some emotion into my question where none existed. It was just a question in response to your absolutist statement that no one can know because we weren’t there. And I do not believe you were either rude or ignorant. Why would you think that? I have been commenting on two issues regards this case; overfiling and premeditation. I agree it will be hard for prosecutors to prove premeditation, it almost always is. There is a longstanding debate on overfiling in the country and a lot of discussion about this leading to acquitals and lesser sentences. Let’s take your one arguement that they tied, beat and tortured him to get a head start. Couldn’t you also argue that they did this and thought that he was dead because, as you say, he knew one of them? Should be an interesting trail. I do believe that if you tie up an 82 year old man and beat and torture him and he dies three weeks later in the hospital, you are responsible for his death, premeditated or not. That is a direct cause and affect and having a world famous paid coroner come in and say that he died of a heart attack that didn’t have any relation to the incident is far fetched.

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  22. Nikki P, after these two citizens do their time as stated by your law of the land, here’s hoping their first stop after scoring some drugs is your house! Maybe you can take them in to help rehabilitate them or something since you are such an understanding soul. Or maybe they can torture you and then if you have a heart attack several weeks later, in that moment of clarity before you expire, you will realize for certain that you are full of shit.

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    • a real regular guy

      It is very hard, in this case, to prove premeditation which is necessary for a first-degree murder charge….I don’t think that Nikki meant anything other than it is going to be extremely difficult to prove premeditation…if there is none, then first-degree murder and the death penalty are out the window.

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    • Ivan, while I would never wish any harm upon you or yours, if you don’t like the laws as they are, you have two choices:
      1. Lobby to have them re-written
      2. Get out. There are plenty of other countries that I’m sure think like you.
      Take your pick.

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  23. While I do not support the death penalty, there are instances, and this is one of them, that make me question my stance. If this was my father, I would want these dirt bags hung from the nearest tree.

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