DA: Researcher guilty or 'unluckiest' man on earth

AP News
Posted: Nov 06, 2014 7:41 PM
DA: Researcher guilty or 'unluckiest' man on earth

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher is either guilty of intentionally poisoning his wife or is "the unluckiest man in the world," a prosecutor said Thursday.

Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini made that comment in her closing argument in the first-degree murder trial of 66-year-old Dr. Robert Ferrante.

Ferrante has denied lacing his 41-year-old wife's energy drink with cyanide last year, saying he bought the poison for his research on stem cells as he sought a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease.

His attorney told the jurors in his closing argument that defense experts expressed doubts about whether Dr. Autumn Klein was murdered at all, which should lead to acquittal.

Ferrante took the stand Wednesday and acknowledged doing online searches on cyanide poisoning and related subjects in the weeks and months before his wife died. But Ferrante testified the searches were related to his research.

In Thursday's closing, Pellegrini noted one article was titled, "Illinois man wins the lottery, poisoned by cyanide," and she asked the jury, "Does that sound like research to you?"

Pellegrini argued there would have to be an incredible number of coincidences for Klein to have died naturally and yet for so much evidence to suggest Ferrante killed her.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer told the jury there's reasonable doubt about whether Klein was murdered because three defense experts — including celebrity pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht — said they couldn't determine whether Klein was poisoned. None of the three categorically ruled it out, but they said Klein exhibited symptoms consistent with other potentially fatal afflictions, including cardiac arrhythmia, and had other questions about a key blood test.

"I want you to ask yourself," Difenderfer said to the jury, "what if Dr. Wecht is right?"

Pellegrini's first sentence to the jury answered that question.

"Let's stress what the defense said last: What if their experts are right? Well, then he's," Pellegrini said, referring to Ferrante, "the unluckiest man in the world."

Pellegrini contends Ferrante poisoned Klein just before midnight on April 17, 2013, as she returned from work at UPMC Presbyterian hospital. She died three days later.

Pellegrini noted that one lab said Klein had a lethal level of cyanide in her blood. A test by another lab couldn't be completed for technical reasons. A related test found cyanide metabolites in Klein's blood but only at normal levels found in many people.

The defense suggested the lack of a second confirming blood test constitutes reasonable doubt. Difenderfer also tried to cast doubt on evidence suggesting Ferrante may have been unhappy that Klein wanted another child. The couple had a 7-year-old daughter, and Klein didn't want her to be an only child as she was.

Pellegrini said emails between the couple and online searches Ferrante did on subjects including divorce laws and how to tell if a woman might be having an affair based on the appearance of her genitals suggested Ferrante was jealous and fearful their marriage was falling apart.

Difenderfer ridiculed that notion, saying Ferrante and Klein were trying to conceive again when Klein died.

"Before we break up, I want to have your kid again?" Difenderfer said. "It doesn't make sense."

But Pellegrini argued Ferrante was only pretending to go along with Klein's fertility goals and was a "master manipulator" who used Klein's desire for another child to kill her. Text messages show she and Ferrante discussed her drinking creatine for that reason before she left work the night she fell ill.

"Will it stimulate egg production too?" Klein said in one text.

Ferrante responded with a smiling emoticon.

The jury deliberated for six hours Thursday without reaching a verdict and was to resume Friday morning.

Ferrante would face life in prison if convicted.