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November 6, 2014

Ferrante trial in wife’s death continues

Editor’s note: Robert Ferrante, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Autumn Klein, was sentenced to a mandatory life in prison with no chance for parole on Feb. 4, 2014.

As the University Times went to press, the trial of Robert Ferrante was finishing its second week in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, under Judge Jeffrey Manning.

Ferrante, formerly a faculty member in neurological surgery, is accused of killing his wife, Autumn Marie Klein, who was a faculty member in neurology. She collapsed in their home on April 17, 2013, and died three days later. Medical tests showed deadly cyanide levels in her body.

Beginning Oct. 23, prosecutor Lisa Pellegrini, an assistant district attorney, has tried to prove that Ferrante possessed the motive and means to undertake such a crime. Pellegrini and prosecution witnesses have testified to Klein’s unhappiness with her marriage and her unsuccessful attempts to have another child with the use of creatine and other drugs to aid fertility, as well as Ferrante’s jealousy of one of Klein’s colleagues.

Much of the prosecution’s case rests on records of Ferrante’s Google searches — his computer was used to make inquiries about cyanide use as early as four months before Klein’s death and again just before hospital officials learned about Klein’s test results — and on his rushed purchase of cyanide just prior to Klein’s collapse.

Pellegrini made much of Ferrante’s request for an overnight order for potassium cyanide using a P-card rather than more usual channels for obtaining lab chemicals with grant funds.

Later, a portion of the cyanide was found to be missing from the bottle.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer countered that Ferrante has used a P-card 20 times for research materials, including an overnight order for rubbing alcohol, and that cyanide was being considered for use in Ferrante’s research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The defendant’s very public demand for a rush order of the purest cyanide, he told the jury, was evidence that Ferrante was not planning to turn around and use it for a crime.

Difenderfer also has noted that the cyanide test initially came back with incorrect results — although both results were deadly cyanide levels — and that, while Ferrante refused an autopsy for his wife, he did allow her organs to be donated, and they are functioning well in other people today.

Testimony in the Ferrante trial is continuing.

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 6