Pitt researcher accused of killing wife will get out-of-county jury

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The University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of killing his wife last year with cyanide will have his case heard by an out-of-county jury.

Robert Ferrante, 65, requested a change in jury venire based on the amount of pretrial publicity.

Police said he gave his wife, Autumn Klein, cyanide on April 17, 2013, in their Oakland home. She died three days later at UPMC Presbyterian. Klein, 41, was a UPMC physician.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning conducted a test of the jury pool three times in the last few months to gauge how much knowledge potential jurors had about the case.

During a session Tuesday involving 79 people, 44 said they had read or heard about the case, and of those, 32 had formed a fixed opinion about the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

That followed two previous inquiries. In the first, in February, 36 of 78 had knowledge of the case, and 13 of those had a fixed opinion. Last week, out of a panel of 67, 50 had read or heard about the case involving Mr. Ferrante, and 35 claimed to have a fixed opinion.

Judge Manning on Tuesday said the number of those with a fixed opinion “appears to continue to grow.”

“The court is reluctant to do it because of the enormous expense,” he said. “Although I may be loath to do so, I believe the motion is appropriate.”

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts will choose a jurisdiction from which to select the jury.

The panel of 18 people — 12 jurors and six alternates — will be chosen in late August for a trial start date Sept. 22.

The case is expected to last at least two weeks, and the prosecution has said it will call nearly four dozen witnesses.

The jurors will be housed in a Pittsburgh hotel for the duration of the case.

The last time an out-of-county jury was selected was in 2011 for the trial of Richard Poplawski, who was accused — and later convicted — of killing three Pittsburgh police officers.

In that case, 18 jurors, along with two court staff members, were sequestered for 11 nights at the DoubleTree Hotel, Downtown, for a cost of more than $29,000. Costs to feed the jurors during their stay amounted to more than $9,000.

The cost for selecting the jury from another county — including mailing summonses, security and travel costs for selection — was just under $15,000.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published May 6, 2014 12:22 PM


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