Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pitt doctor pleads not guilty in wife's poisoning

July 30. 2013 4:14PM
Associated Press

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(AP) A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher who allegedly poisoned his neurologist wife by lacing an energy drink with cyanide pleaded not guilty Tuesday to criminal homicide.

Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, was arraigned in Pittsburgh a day after waiving extradition from West Virginia, where he was arrested last week.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer has said Ferrante "adamantly" denies involvement in the April 20 death of his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, three days after she suddenly fell ill. But after the arraignment, Difenderfer refused comment on any of the allegations, including that Ferrante bought the poison with a university credit card two days before his wife fell ill.

Doctors at UPMC Presbyterian hospital, where Klein and Ferrante worked, were puzzled by her sudden illness and considered everything from a stroke to a seizure disorder in treating her. Blood tests revealed a lethal level of cyanide, but only after Klein had died and been cremated at her husband's insistence, police said.

During the hearing, Difenderfer said Ferrante, who appeared on video from the county jail wearing a white dress shirt beneath his red jail jumpsuit, remains "devastated" by his wife's death.

"I'm sure it's not easy for him," Difenderfer said, noting the celebrated researcher into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, has never been in criminal trouble before. "He's devastated by losing his wife and doubly devastated by being named the cause."

Klein's elderly parents, Charles and Lois Klein, of Towson, Md., were in the courtroom but declined comment through a district attorney's spokesman.

A preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 9 was immediately rescheduled for Sept. 23, and Ferrante remained jailed without bond.

City police charged Ferrante after discovering he bought more than a half-pound of cyanide, which police determined was not related to his research.

The criminal complaint indicated Klein may have been trying to get pregnant by Ferrante with whom she already had a 6-year-old daughter and that he suggested drinking creatine might improve their chances of conceiving, even though the supplement is not known to aid reproduction. The complaint also suggested, however, that Ferrante suspected Klein was having an affair.

An affidavit and several search warrants suggest Ferrante plotted to poison his wife, then took steps to delay her medical care and keep the cyanide from being detected.

Among other things, police said Ferrante told a 911 dispatcher he wanted his wife taken to another UPMC hospital a mile farther from their house than UPMC Presbyterian, which has a top-rated trauma center. And witnesses at the hospital told police Ferrante's reactions "seemed fake and like 'bad acting'" and that he spoke of her in the past tense when she was still alive.

Ferrante was arrested Thursday evening after Pittsburgh police traveled to St. Augustine, Fla., where he was known to be staying. Difenderfer said he had told Ferrante to drive back to Pittsburgh to surrender, but Ferrante was stopped by West Virginia State Police, who were watching for his vehicle.

Associated Press

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