Warrants unsealed in Pittsburgh cyanide case, showing financial strain, talk of another child

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A UPMC doctor underwent multiple fertility treatments in the two years before she died of cyanide poisoning, potentially causing financial distress and creating tension with her husband, who is accused of killing her.

Those and other details emerged Thursday when 59 search warrant applications were released in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas after the expiration date on the orders sealing them had passed.

The documents provide new detail about the number of places investigators looked while they tried to build their case against former University of Pittsburgh researcher Robert J. Ferrante, 65, who is accused of poisoning his wife, Autumn Klein.

According to medical records obtained from Reproductive Health Specialists and cited in the warrant, Klein, 41, was using fertility drugs and had undergone in vitro fertilization using a donor egg multiple times in the two years preceding her death. Mr. Ferrante "was not agreeable to or supportive of" the treatments, a detective wrote.

"On 8/9/2012, Klein reported that she was undecided on a plan for treatment. She also reported to the representative on this same date that she had no health insurance coverage and was unsure how much money was owed from her last cycle of IVF," Allegheny County district attorney's Detective Jackelyn Weibel wrote.

Klein did have health insurance but it did not cover payments for all of the fertility treatments she sought.

Later in the affidavit, dated May 28, Detective Weibel wrote: "It was learned from Ferrante that Klein was ordering fertility drugs from Canada in an attempt to save money and had asked the facility to delay on processing her credit card and check payments on more than one occasion. Due to [these] reasons, your affiant believes that the high cost of these IVF treatments (without any insurance coverage) may have been putting a strain on the family's finance."

According to the warrant, the couple earned more than $300,000 a year. They moved to Pittsburgh from Boston in 2011 and bought a $590,000 home on Lytton Avenue in Oakland in May of that year. The county did not have any records pertaining to a mortgage for them.

Several weeks after Klein died, Mr. Ferrante made "suspicious transfers" of some of his assets, assistant district attorney John Fitzgerald wrote in a separate document seeking to put a temporary restraining order on transactions involving the couple's home.

On May 15, Mr. Ferrante obtained two safety deposit boxes at a PNC Bank branch. Three days later, he placed $30,000 in a box on which he also included his adult daughter from another marriage as a box owner, Mr. Fitzgerald wrote.

Also included in the dozens of search warrants were requests to sift through the contents of the couple's electronic devices, including iPhones, a Blackberry, several Macintosh and other computers, as well as a digital camera, and for emails and text messages between Klein and a Massachusetts doctor with whom she had been communicating between Jan. 1 and her April 21 death.

Detectives from the DA's office also obtained warrants to gather bank records for the couple, as well as information on Klein's retirement account, Mr. Ferrante's trust account and life insurance information for Klein.

They also sought a warrant for all of the funeral and cremation arrangements made by Mr. Ferrante for Klein at McCabe Brothers Funeral Home on Walnut Street, as well as information on the donation of Klein's organs to the Center for Organ Recovery & Education.

At a court hearing earlier in the day, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning gave Mr. Ferrante permission to have contact visits with a private investigator at the jail.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer said he expects his client probably will only need two such visits.

Assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini had no objections, and also turned over the first batch of discovery in the case against Mr. Ferrante, in an electronic format.

Because it is expected that discovery will be voluminous, Mr. Difenderfer told the court he hoped to be able to provide Mr. Ferrante with a basic laptop computer to be able to go through it. Judge Manning had no problem with that.

Mr. Ferrante, who was not present for the hearing, is housed in a single cell at the Allegheny County Jail. The next step in the case will be a pretrial conference set for Dec. 6, at which time Judge Manning said a trial date will be selected.

Mr. Ferrante was arrested in West Virginia in late July while, his attorney said, he was attempting to return to Pittsburgh to surrender.

Klein collapsed inside the couple's home late April 17 and died in UPMC Presbyterian three days later. Mr. Ferrante faces one count of homicide in her death.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620. Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

First Published November 7, 2013 2:23 PM

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