Pittsburgh medical professor sentenced to life in wife's poisoning

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 04, 2015 3:55 PM

By Elizabeth Daley

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A University of Pittsburgh neurological surgery professor was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after his first-degree murder conviction in the poisoning death of his wife, who was also a doctor.

Dr. Robert Ferrante, 66, appeared before Judge Jeffrey Manning at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pennsylvania but did not speak on his own behalf, according to one of his lawyers, Wendy Williams.

His lawyer's request for a new trial was not granted, but could be considered as a post-sentencing motion once supplementary material was added.

"All the evidence against him was circumstantial," Williams said. "It's just sad," she added. 

Ferrante was accused of poisoning his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, 41, by lacing her dietary supplement drink with cyanide ordered through his research lab at the university.

A Pittsburgh jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in November, making him subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Shortly after his conviction, a second woman, who like Klein was an employee of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was found dead of cyanide poisoning. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner recently ruled that the death of Nicole Kotchey, 35, was a suicide.

Before the sentencing, Prosecutor Lisa Pellegrini read victim impact statements on behalf of Autumn Klein's family, including her parents.

Her mother, Lois Klein, who is caring for Ferrante's daughter, Cianna, 8, wrote: "This child now, is not only without a mother - she is also without a father."

During the trial, Pellegrini told jurors that the couple's marriage was troubled and that Klein may have been about to leave her husband.

Ferrante "wanted her dead, dead, dead" and felt that if he could not have Klein, then "no one will," Pellegrini said in her closing arguments.

Ferrante's other lawyer, William Difenderfer, argued that Klein did not die of cyanide poisoning and contended Ferrante ordered the substance for clinical research purposes.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)