Allegheny County judge closes custody hearing concerning daughter of physician poisoned with cyanide

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An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge today ordered that custody of a girl whose mother was poisoned with cyanide while her father is accused in the killing will remain with her maternal grandparents.

The adult son of Robert Ferrante, who is charged with killing his wife, Autumn Klein, in April, filed a petition seeking custody of his 6-year-old half sister, saying that he and his wife were better able to care for the girl than her elderly grandparents.

But at a brief hearing this morning, Judge David R. Cashman discounted the argument, and continued custody with Lois and Bill Klein, who live in Towson, Md.

An attorney for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sought access to the hearing but was summarily rejected by Judge Cashman.

"You're not entitled to be here," the judge told Holly Planinsic. "You're done."

The Post-Gazette asked Judge Cashman to provide specific findings as to why the hearing involving the daughter of Mr. Ferrante and Klein should be closed.

Klein, a physician with UPMC, collapsed at her Oakland home on April 17 and died three days later as a result of cyanide poisoning. Mr. Ferrante was arrested July 25 and charged with homicide.

He was on his way back to Pittsburgh from Florida at the time of his arrest. Mr. Ferrante had planned to leave his daughter in the care of his sister there, but a temporary order, granting custody to the girl's maternal grandparents, was issued instead.

The district attorney's office has said the girl is a material witness in the case.

Klein's parents attended this morning's hearing, which ended about 9:30 a.m.

Under Pennsylvania law, custody and dependency hearings are presumed to be open unless the court articulates reasons why they should be closed.

Judge Cashman failed to do that.

Instead, he said, "I have a petition for a juvenile court action. You're not entitled to be here. Leave."

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Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620. First Published August 7, 2013 9:45 AM


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