EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 24, 2008

Former state official fights contempt claim

By James A. Kimble , Staff writer

BRENTWOOD - A former top official with the state Medical Examiner's Office could be held in contempt of court if a judge believes she tried to evade a court-ordered MRI of her brain.

For the past year, prosecutors have been pressing Kathrine Wieder, 52, of Newburyport, Mass., to hand over medical records and undergo exams to determine her competency to face trial.

She is charged with approximately 44 fraud and theft charges tied to her job as chief forensic investigator.

Paul McDonough, Wieder's attorney, fought off suggestions in court yesterday that his client is resisting the MRI exam.

McDonough said Wieder tried to undergo an MRI on Jan. 9, but lying flat on the machine's table was far too painful for her.

Wieder is accused of signing off on cremations for funeral homes and crematoriums without first inspecting the bodies as required by law, according to indictments.

Prosecutors say she reaped thousands of dollars by shortcutting the inspection process and keeping most of the work for herself.

The charges stem from Rockingham, Hillsborough and Merrimack counties, including funeral homes in Derry and Salem.

The contempt hearing concluded in Rockingham County Superior Court yesterday with Wieder's husband, Stephen Wieder, undergoing sharp questioning about whether he recalled when exactly his wife of five years began suffering a relapse of multiple sclerosis.

Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid suggested yesterday that Kathrine Wieder previously lied to her bosses at the attorney general's office about undergoing chemotherapy before the criminal investigation began in late 2004.

Stephen Wieder, a psychiatrist, said he couldn't recall exactly when his wife's health began to deteriorate.

He said yesterday she's been in a state of decline for some time. His wife has a feeding tube because she lost her gag reflex, he said, and she suffers extreme pain on a daily basis from a dislocated pelvis.

Wieder said his wife's pain has only been compounded by the failed attempt to have the MRI completed.

"Her pain was there before," he said, "but it was like a toothache compared to this, which is like a sword."

Kathrine Wieder appeared in court yesterday reclined in a wheelchair. Her hips were askew, with a pillow between her legs. A breathing tube snaked from around her wheelchair to her nose. A feeding tube wrapped around toward her waist. Throughout the hearing, a machine powering the tube emitted a soft, constant whir.

Stephen Wieder said he wished the MRI could have taken place and put an end to the state's suggestion his wife is somehow exaggerating her health woes.

Judge Tina Nadeau had to interrupt Reid and Wieder after terse exchanges between the two. In one exchange, Wieder said he knew his wife worked longer hours than Reid did.

Kathrine Wieder was indicted nearly three years ago, after state police began investigating fraud within the state Medical Examiner's Office. Police believe Wieder collected fees from area funeral homes to certify cremations, then hid her alleged wrongdoing by not submitting death records that were supposed to be filed with the Medical Examiner's Office or local town hall.

Police found hundreds of unsubmitted death records during raids of Wieder's office, Newburyport home and a nearby storage locker in Byfield. Stephen Wieder contended yesterday that the 2004 raid on his Newburyport home was illegal.

Since Kathrine Wieder's indictment, prosecutors from all three counties have remained involved in the case.

Merrimack County Attorney Dan St. Hillaire and Roger Chadwick, first assistant county attorney from Hillsborough, participated in yesterday's hearing. They have been relying on the expertise of Dr. James Adams, the state's forensic psychologist, to investigate Wieder's competency.

McDonough called upon MRI technician John Anderson to recount how Wieder acted when he and another technician tried to place her on the machine. Anderson testified he believed Wieder was truly in pain.

"Generally, you can tell if someone is in pain versus someone just not wanting to do it," Anderson said. "I felt she just couldn't lie down."

Under questioning, Anderson said it's possible that someone could be sedated so the exam wouldn't be as painful.

There is no time frame for Nadeau's decision. Wieder is scheduled for trial in late October.