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5 Years Ago Today: A Look Back at One of Thousands of Physician Murderers

(Here's a story we covered in July, 2013)

Doctor Buys Cyanide. Wife Dies of Cyanide Poisoning. Doctor Now in Jail for Murder. Any Questions?

Let us guess: you still think these are the smartest people in the room?

In Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Doctor Robert Ferrante – a University of Pittsburgh professor of neurosurgery – has been charged with killing his wife, also a doctor on staff. This, after investigators searched his laboratory at the University, as well as his home.

Ferrante’s arrest culminated months of speculation that he was the prime suspect in the death of his wife.

Doctor Autumn Klein, age 41, who was chief of Women’s Neurology at the University, was found unconscious on her kitchen floor last April and died several days later, of what the coroner stated was a lethal amount of cyanide in her bloodstream.

Ferrante, age 64, was arrested three days ago after being stopped on the highway in West Virginia and transported to the West Virginia State Police Department for criminal processing. He is now being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, West Virginia awaiting arraignment.

(Here’s a case update in November, 2014)

Pennsylvania Neuroscientist Found Guilty in Wife's Cyanide Poisoning Death

Jurors who convicted a University of Pittsburgh researcher of First Degree murder in the cyanide poisoning death of his wife say they simply did not find the doctor's explanations believable.

Doctor Robert Ferrante, who hung his head when the verdict was read in court, faces a mandatory life sentence in the April 2013 death of his wife, 41-year-old neurologist Doctor Autumn Klein.

One juror, Helen Ewing said she was “horrified” by the suffering of Klein heard on the 911 call Ferrante made while his wife was moaning and gasping for air in the background. Fellow juror Lance Deweese said: “It got you in the gut. It got you in the heart.”

The jury, which deliberated 15 hours over two days, agreed with Allegheny County Pennsylvania prosecutors who proved Ferrante laced his wife’s energy drink with cyanide, which he bought through his laboratory, using a university-issued charge card two days before she fell suddenly ill.

Klein’s relatives burst into tears upon hearing the guilty verdict.

“Justice for Autumn,” said her mother, Lois Klein, of Towson, Maryland, outside the courtroom.

The Klein family issued a statement through the district attorney’s office, saying, in part, “While we are pleased that the person responsible for Autumn’s death has been brought to justice, nothing will ever fill the emptiness that we feel in our family and in our hearts.”

The 66-year-old Ferrante denied poisoning his wife. His lawyers argued that she had not been poisoned at all, citing three defense experts who said that couldn’t be conclusively proved.

Ferrante said the cyanide he bought was for stem cell experiments he was conducting on Lou Gehrig’s disease, because the toxin can be used to kill off neurological cells and thus simulate the disease in the lab.

The Prosecution’s Case

But prosecutors said Ferrante was a “master manipulator” who concocted the plan to kill his wife after she pressured him to have a second child and because he may have feared she was having an affair or planned to divorce him.

The key to the prosecution’s case was a test on Klein’s blood that revealed a lethal level of cyanide. The blood was drawn while doctors at UPMC Presbyterian hospital tried in vain for three days to save her life, though the results weren’t known until after she died and her body was cremated.

Jurors Speak Out

Jurors said they found the lab test showing the lethal level of cyanide in Klein’s blood to be the most reliable test in evidence. They also said Ferrante’s explanations were inconsistent.

Police said Ferrante originally told them that he was downstairs in the kitchen and gave his wife a creatine drink before she collapsed. But in court, Ferrante said he was upstairs when she got home; he didn’t know she drank anything and she collapsed after giving him a kiss.

The jurors said that Ferrante doing online searches regarding cyanide poisoning, and how it can be removed by the medical procedures, all but sealed the guilty verdict.

Ferrante, now age 70, is serving a sentence of life without parole at the State Correctional Institution, Clearfield County Pennsylvania.

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