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Appeals court upholds conviction in cyanide poisoning case

January 18, 2018

PITTSBURGH (AP) — An appeals court has upheld the conviction of a former University of Pittsburgh medical researcher in what prosecutors said was the cyanide poisoning death of his wife in 2013.

Defense attorneys had asked the Pennsylvania Superior Court for a new trial for Robert Ferrante, 69, who was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2014 and is serving life without parole.

Allegheny County prosecutors said he killed Autumn Klein, 41, by putting cyanide in her energy drink, which text messages show he urged her to drink to enhance her fertility. Klein collapsed on April 17, 2013, when she could be heard gasping for air in the background as Ferrante called 911 for an ambulance. She died three days later.

Defense attorney Chris Eyster cited the transplant of Klein’s liver after she died and argued it would have been unable to be donated had she been poisoned. The appeals court said Thursday the transplant wasn’t new evidence and had been cited earlier.

Eyster attacked post-mortem tests done by Quest Diagnostics that found toxic levels of cyanide in Klein’s blood after an autopsy failed to detect the poison. He contended that prosecutors didn’t reveal that a Quest subsidiary was fined for a federal misbranding conviction and paid millions more to settle related litigation, but prosecutors said the sanctions were irrelevant and the appeals court said defense attorneys had access to the same information.

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.

Eyster vowed an appeal to the state Supreme Court and said if that is denied he will move ahead with more lower court action challenging Quest’s test results.

“We still think those numbers are bad,” he said. “Our position is that evidence should not have been admitted at trial.”

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