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What role could a grand jury investigation play in the Jim Rogers case moving forward?

Jim Rogers vigil sign.jpg
Julia Zenkevich
/
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris explains why the convening of a grand jury to investigate the death of Jim Rogers might uncover new information; a local pharmacy is cutting out the middleman to sell low-cost prescriptions to consumers without the use of health insurance; and we meet an Algerian human rights advocate and dissident who relocated to Pittsburgh last month after fleeing government persecution.

What’s the role of a grand jury in investigating the death of Jim Rogers?
(0:00 - 8:33)

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office will use a grand jury to investigate the death of 54-year-old Jim Rogers, according to the Tribune-Review. Rogers died Oct. 14, a day after Pittsburgh Police shocked him with a Taser multiple times. Police were called to the scene after a report of a stolen bike.

“More commonly, a grand jury is used by a prosecutor to determine whether there should be charges in a criminal case, just whether there should be charges,” explains University of Pittsburgh law professor, and host of the Criminal Injustice podcast David Harris. “So, it's not beyond a reasonable doubt. It is simply whether there is probable cause to go forward and have a trial in a criminal case.”

In this process, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s prosecutor will lay out evidence, but there will not be evidence put forth by the defense. Harris says that a grand jury has “investigatory advantages,” where witnesses can be subpoenaed, but don’t have to speak publicly.

Harris says the process could take months, even though the event in question, Jim Rogers’ cause of death, was only one specific event.

“It involved at least eight different actors from the city and maybe the county, it involved supervisors, it involved line officers, it involved EMS personnel,” says Harris. “This is a complicated enough thing in the sense that the cause of death is going to be a huge, huge question.”

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Roger's death was accidental, but Harris says that conclusion does not have the force of law, so manslaughter charges could still be applied.

“But in every homicide case, you have to prove that the actions or inactions in this case that the person took were the cause of death,” says Harris. “When there is evidence to think that the death might have happened anyway, the case becomes more difficult to win.”

Mike Manko, communications director with the district attorney’s office said in an email, “Our office is not permitted to comment in any way on the operation of the Allegheny County Investigating Grand Jury. However, what I can tell you is that District Attorney Zappala has had extensive conversations with United States Attorney Cindy Chung concerning the unnecessary death of Jim Rogers.”

A local pharmacy is rethinking prescription sales, and passing the cost-savings to customers
(8:40 - 17:14)

Last month, billionaire investor and Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban received national attention when he launched an online pharmacy that looks to lower the price of generic drugs by going straight to the manufacturer. But a pharmacy similar to this national online service has been in the Pittsburgh region for almost two years.

“So we take our acquisition cost. ours is a 5% markup, and then add on a dispensing fee,” explains Kyle McCormick, founder and pharmacist at Blueberry Pharmacy in West View. “So for members, it's a $3 dispensing fee for a 30 day supply and for nonmembers, it's a $10 dispensing fee for 30 days supply.”

McCormick says his pharmacy, unlike others, cuts out unnecessary fees for consumers. Because of the deeply discounted prices, Blueberry Pharmacy doesn’t take insurance, even though many of its customers have health insurance.

McCormick has worked at other pharmacies before, and says three factors have influenced his business decisions: he watched generic drug prices deflate over time, patients were experiencing higher up-front costs, and cost savings on prescriptions were not being passed on to customers..

“Why not just charge patients fair and transparent prices upfront? And then we don't have to deal with the broken system that is an insurance based world.”

Long term, McCormick says he hopes to help other independent pharmacies adopt a similar business model to offer patients fair and transparent drug prices.

An Algerian dissident is now an Artist Protection Fund Fellow in Pittsburgh
(17:19 - 22:30)

An Algerian human rights advocate and dissident fleeing government persecution relocated to Pittsburgh last month.

Anouar Rahmani is a novelist, blogger, and newspaper columnist who has advocated for individual freedoms and women’s rights. He is also recognized as the first Algerian voice publicly supporting gay marriage in that North African country.

Rahmani is now an Artist Protection Fund Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University and City of Asylum, which shelters writers persecuted in their home countries. Rahmani spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll about his work.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Boen Wang is a writer, audio producer, and MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His written work appeared in The Sunday Long Read, The Fourth River, Inheritance, and elsewhere; his audio work won the “Best New Artist” award at the 2020 Third Coast International Audio Festival, was selected as one of The Bello Collective’s “100 Outstanding Podcasts of 2020,” and was shortlisted for the 2021 HearSay Audio Festival Prize. Visit his website at boen.cool.
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