CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The former chief forensic investigator for the state medical examiner says she probably will accept a plea agreement to resolve the nearly 40 felony charges she faces.

Kathrine Wieder, 53, is accused of failing to inspect bodies before they were cremated and improperly accepting fees for the work. She was arrested in 2005 but the case has been delayed by her claims that she is incompetent to stand trial because she is too sick to care for herself or make her own decisions.

On Friday, lawyers in the case said a hearing to decide Wieder’s competency will be postponed from June to July. But Wieder said she believes the case will be resolved by a plea bargain, not a competency hearing or trail. Prosecutors would not comment on any negotiations, but Wieder said she has been offered a deal that involves home confinement and significant fines in exchange for a guilty plea.

“We are probably going to eventually accept it, because to do otherwise means a lengthy court battle that I am physically not up to,” Wieder wrote in an e-mail to the Concord Monitor last week.

Wieder said she has had multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years, but the stress of the prosecution has caused a rapid deterioration of her health. She has trouble walking, suffers from chronic back and pelvis pain, has lost her ability to swallow and sleeps hooked up to a ventilator so she can breathe at night. Her husband, a psychiatrist, said his wife’s difficulty in reasoning is so significant he was forced to obtain a legal guardianship to make financial and medical decisions on her behalf.

For a time, prosecutors accepted Wieder’s health problems as a valid reason for postponing her trial. But when she began to argue that she was too ill to face the charges at all, they pushed back, questioning the seriousness of her medical condition and even the multiple sclerosis diagnosis itself. A medical expert hired by prosecutors has said there’s evidence that Wieder may be exaggerating or faking her illness.

“The entire presentation of this defendant is one of a person who dramatically and flamboyantly draws attention to herself as a victim in many ways while demanding special treatment as a result,” wrote Dr. James Adams, the Department of Corrections’ chief forensic examiner, who was asked to evaluate Wieder’s competency.

Deputy Rockingham County Thomas Reid is one of three county attorneys involved in the case. In court filings, he referred to the elaborate gardens that Wieder maintains at her Newburyport, Mass., home as an activity that casts doubt on her argument.

“Apparently she does not require oxygen or suction under the circumstances referenced. In one example, the defendant apparently climbs up some rocks to do sweeping. No oxygen, no suction, no wheel chair are required,” he wrote. “The defendant’s condition and requirements seem to be quite different for court appearances.”

Three doctors Wieder hired, however, sent letters to the court saying she was too sick to stand trial.

“The neurological signs and symptoms are not things you can fake,” she said.

The investigation into the medical examiner’s office came after a deputy who worked under Wieder was charged with stealing medication from death scenes and improperly filing records. Wieder acknowledges that she sometimes did not inspect the bodies before receiving her $35 fee but said she was following the office’s established practice.

The volume of cremations was too high for the number of deputy medical examiners, she said, adding that she believes the attorney general’s office was aware of the practice and never intervened.

“If it’s a little old lady who died in hospice care, I’d say go ahead and do it,” she said.

She denies allegations that she tired to keep business for herself or favored employees.

“I cut corners. I never denied it,” she said. “But I never took anything that didn’t belong to me.”

Information from: Concord Monitor,

AP-ES-06-01-08 1214EDT

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