Parents of slain UPMC doctor maintain custody of grandchild

Ferrante's son seeks supervision rights


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The young daughter of the Pitt researcher accused of killing his wife with cyanide will remain in the custody of her maternal grandparents.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman issued an order to that effect Wednesday morning, which also made documents in the case public.

Lois and William Klein had been granted emergency custody of their granddaughter last month after her father, Robert Ferrante, was arrested for criminal homicide.

He is accused of killing his wife and the girl's mother, Autumn Klein, who was the chief of the division of women's neurology at UPMC.

She collapsed at her Oakland home the night of April 17 and died April 20 as a result of cyanide poisoning.

Mr. Ferrante was arrested July 25 on his way back to Pittsburgh from Florida. He had planned to leave his 6-year-old daughter in the care of his sister there. However, Judge Cashman issued a temporary order, granting custody to the Kleins, who live in Towson, Md.

The Kleins, as well as Mr. Ferrante's adult son and daughter-in-law, have filed petitions seeking primary custody of the girl.

Michael and Nicole Ferrante, who live in Boston, filed a request for custody July 31. Among the issues raised, the Ferrantes said that they would be more age-appropriate, since they are 30 and 28 years old, respectively. Lois Klein is 78 and William Klein is 76.

The Ferrantes also noted that before Robert Ferrante and Autumn Klein moved to Pittsburgh in 2011, they had a close relationship with the girl and that they continued to visit the family frequently.

"[The Ferrantes] will provide a positive atmosphere without criticizing the child's father or mother and will insulate the child from the child's father's likely murder trial," wrote attorney Christine Gale.

In the Kleins' petition, they noted that they have a close relationship with the girl and that many times they cared for her while her parents traveled for work or vacation.

They also claim that by having full custody, they would protect the girl from "nefarious attempts of father and his relatives to influence her testimony and memory relating to the events surrounding the death of her mother."

The district attorney's office has said the girl is a material witness in the case. The hearing was cut short after Judge Cashman ruled that the Ferrantes do not have standing to seek custody.

In Pennsylvania, the only people with standing for custody matters are parents, grandparents and those people who have been identified as acting "in loco parentis," or standing in for a parent.

Instead, the Ferrantes have now submitted an application with the court to file a private dependency action. In the meantime, Judge Cashman ordered that custody of the child will remain with the Kleins.

Typically, custody hearings are heard in the family division of the Allegheny County courts, and the Ferrantes have asked that their case be moved there.

However, on July 31, Judge Cashman signed an order giving the criminal division jurisdiction of the matter until the criminal case against Mr. Ferrante is completed.

After that, the order said, the custody issue can be decided in the family division.

The administrative judge for the family division, Kim Berkeley Clark, could not be reached for comment.

Prior to the start of the custody proceeding Wednesday, 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 should be closed.

Under Pennsylvania law, custody hearings are presumed to be open unless the court articulates reasons otherwise. Judge Cashman did not 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: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM


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