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Most appeal arguments dismissed in cyanide poisoning death

August 28, 2019

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A judge has dismissed most of the latest appeal arguments by a former University of Pittsburgh medical researcher in what prosecutors said was the cyanide poisoning death of his wife in 2013, but said he is due a hearing on one issue.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning said Robert Ferrante has grounds for a hearing on whether his previous attorneys erred in withdrawing a request to have his case heard by a jury chosen from outside Allegheny County.

The defense, arguing that previous attorneys were ineffective, has been seeking a new trial for Ferrante, 69, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole in the April 2013 death of 41-year-old Dr. Autumn Klein. Prosecutors say he put cyanide in her energy drink, which text messages show he urged her to drink.

Manning dismissed defense arguments concerning Ferrante’s waiving of his preliminary hearing, that a defense attorney shouldn’t have said he didn’t understand the scientific evidence, and that medical evidence went unchallenged, among other issues. He said the appeal didn’t cite enough evidence to back up an argument that trial attorneys should have challenged the reliability of cyanide poisoning tests, but the defense could file an amended petition on that issue.

Ferrante acknowledged ordering cyanide in the weeks before Klein’s death but said that was related to his well-known research into Lou Gehrig’s disease. The poison was used to mimic the disease’s symptoms in lab animals, Ferrante said.

An appeals court earlier rejected defense arguments that cited a successful transplant of Klein’s liver as evidence that cyanide couldn’t have killed her.

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