Researcher: I didn’t buy cyanide to poison my wife
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher on Wednesday denied buying cyanide at his lab so he could later use it to poison his wife, as prosecutors allege, saying instead he didn’t harm her then — or ever.
Dr. Robert Ferrante was the last witness as testimony wrapped up on the 10th day of his criminal homicide trial. Allegheny County prosecutors contend Ferrante laced his wife’s energy drink with the poison to kill her in April 2013.
Ferrante, 66, denied that and rejected prosecutors’ claims that he planned the death of Dr. Autumn Klein, 41.
Instead, Ferrante testified he was working upstairs when he heard his wife come in the back door shortly before midnight on April 17, 2013.
Ferrante said he went downstairs and, “She said, ‘Hi, Hon, love you,’ gave me a peck on the cheek and then she fell to her knees.”
Ferrante and his defense attorneys say they believe Klein may have been stricken by a cardiac arrhythmia or some kind of brain abnormality relating to headaches and fainting spells she had suffered in the previous months.
Earlier Wednesday, they called forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, a consultant on celebrated deaths including Elvis Presley’s and JonBenet Ramsey’s, who said conflicting blood test results and evidence that Klein’s death could have been due to natural causes led him to consider the cause and manner of her death “undetermined.”
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini contends a Quest Diagnostics lab test that found a lethal level of cyanide in Klein’s blood is reliable, even though later tests by another lab couldn’t be completed because of technical issues and another test found substances related to cyanide, but only at normal, non-fatal levels.
Pellegrini focused on previous testimony suggesting that Klein was pressuring Ferrante to have another child — the couple, married in 2001, had a 6-year-old daughter — and that Ferrante had texted Klein to suggest the energy drink might help them conceive. Other testimony showed someone used Ferrante’s computers to search for information on cyanide poisoning in the weeks before Klein died and, after she died but before he was arrested, on how a coroner might detect the poison.
But Ferrante denied all that on the witness stand.
Defense attorney William Difenderfer asked Ferrante if the cyanide “was purchased for the purpose of you plotting or planning to kill your wife?”
“Absolutely not,” Ferrante said.
“Would you, on the 17th of April, or anytime, would you have ever harmed your wife?” Difenderfer followed up.
“No,” Ferrante said.
Pellegrini also used Ferrante’s description of the night his wife fell ill in an effort to undermine his credibility.
Police investigators said Ferrante told them and a medical colleague that his wife had collapsed after drinking the energy supplement. On the witness stand, Ferrante denied knowing whether his wife drank the substance while he was still upstairs.
He also noted that Klein was on her knees, fell to the floor and was waving him away as though she didn’t need help for a full 10 minutes before he called 911. Ferrante estimated that time during a recording of the 911 call played earlier in the trial, during which Klein could be heard moaning, groaning and gasping for air.
Pellegrini asked Ferrante if he tried to carry his wife to a couch or otherwise move her from the kitchen floor.
“I tried to make her comfortable where she was,” he replied.
Asked how or why he let that go on for 10 minutes before calling 911, Ferrante said, “Sometimes time can pass very quickly or very slowly. I didn’t have a stop watch.”
The prosecution is seeking a first-degree murder conviction, which carries a mandatory life prison sentence. Closing arguments were to begin Thursday morning, after which the jury will be sequestered, in a hotel if necessary, until it reaches a verdict.