July 26, 2013

Police arrest researcher suspected of poisoning wife with cyanide

Dr. Robert Ferrante is accused of giving the deadly poison to his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein. She died on April 20.

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with fatally poisoning his neurologist wife with cyanide will face an extradition hearing next week in West Virginia.

This undated photo provided by the Allegheny County District Attorney shows University of Pittsburgh medical researcher Dr. Robert Ferrante. He was arrested on on a charge that he fatally poisoned his wife, a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh medical school.

Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, was jailed without bond after his arrest Thursday night in Beckley, W.Va. State police stopped him there after Pittsburgh police had flown flew to St. Augustine, Fla., to arrest him, only to learn he had already left. Authorities haven't said why Ferrante was in Florida.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer said Ferrante wasn't fleeing police and was simply stopped while driving back to Pennsylvania to surrender on a criminal homicide charge.

Allegheny County prosecutors accused Difenderfer of tipping off Ferrante so he could avoid arrest. But Difenderfer said he simply contacted Ferrante at dawn Thursday and told him to surrender in Pittsburgh once the attorney learned police had an arrest warrant for Ferrante.

Through Difenderfer, Ferrante has denied poisoning 41-year-old Dr. Autumn Klein in April.

Kristen Keller, the prosecuting attorney in Raleigh County, W.Va., said Ferrante is due in court there on Monday afternoon.

Pittsburgh police or the county sheriff will bring Ferrante to Pittsburgh once the extradition situation is resolved, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., whose office is prosecuting Ferrante.

Klein, chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, died April 20 after suddenly falling ill at home three days earlier. Blood drawn from her had high levels of acid so doctors had it tested for cyanide as a precaution, even noting it was unlikely, the police complaint said. Those tests revealed a lethal level of cyanide, but only after Klein had died and been cremated at her husband's insistence, police said.

Two days before Klein fell ill, Ferrante, a leading researcher on Lou Gehrig's disease, used a university credit card to buy more than a half-pound of cyanide, which police determined was the only substance he purchased not related to his work, authorities said.

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