No death penalty in cyanide poisoning, Allegheny County DA decides

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The Allegheny County district attorney will not seek the death penalty against a University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of killing his wife with cyanide.

Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Monday that his prosecutors could not find any aggravating circumstances that would make Robert Ferrante eligible for capital punishment if found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Autumn Klein, 41, who collapsed in the couple's home in Oakland on April 17.

The well-known chief of the division of women's neurology at UPMC died three days later of cyanide poisoning.

"We did explore a great deal whether poisoning with cyanide constitutes torture," Mr. Zappala said. "My lawyers are telling me no."

Aggravating circumstances in Pennsylvania law include: that the victim is a police or court officer; was held for ransom; was the subject of a contract killing; was a prosecution witness in another case and was killed to prevent testimony; or the offense was committed by means of torture.

The DA's office arrested Mr. Ferrante, 65, in July and charged him with criminal homicide.

According to the criminal complaint, he asked a colleague to purchase cyanide for his research lab and have it delivered overnight two days before his wife collapsed.

Mr. Ferrante is scheduled for formal arraignment this week.

On Monday, defense attorney William Difenderfer filed a motion with the court seeking permission for a private detective to have contact visits with his client at the jail.

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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