Cyanide suspect Robert Ferrante's suicide letter discovered
June 6, 2014 11:34 PM
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Robert Ferrante, the University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of using cyanide to kill his wife last year, wrote and signed a suicide letter, although investigators later discovered it shredded and discarded during a search of his Oakland home.
The suicide note was among several new pieces of information revealed Friday in an affidavit of probable cause for a search warrant obtained just last month, as part of the investigation into the death of Autumn Klein on April 20, 2013.
The others included new details from the time period police say Robert Ferrante obtained the cyanide through his Pitt lab, as well as information that he allegedly lied to his assistant about a separate missing neurotoxin.
The search warrant affidavit, dated May 20, was contained in a set of exhibits filed Friday afternoon by the Allegheny County district attorney's office seeking to examine the contents of a safe seized from under Mr. Ferrante's desk in his UPMC office a year ago.
According to the DA's filing, the safe has been kept in evidence in the Pittsburgh police property room and had been unopened "as investigators were unaware of its contents" until after the defense mentioned it in a pretrial motion last month.
Klein collapsed at her home late on April 17, 2013, and died three days later at UPMC Presbyterian. Blood tests revealed cyanide in her system, and investigators learned that Mr. Ferrante, a neuro-researcher at Pitt, had ordered the chemical through his lab on April 15, 2013, and had it shipped to him overnight.
That same date, according to the affidavit filed Friday, Mr. Ferrante told his assistant, Jinho Kim, that he was going to give Klein creatine because she was tired. Mr. Ferrante later told investigators the creatine was to increase her fertility and that he would sprinkle it on her toast or mix it into sugary drinks.
According to other court filings, Klein had gone through unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization.
On April 17, 2013, Mr. Kim said he assisted Mr. Ferrante at the lab "in measuring and marking two vials." He told investigators he also saw Mr. Ferrante with a zip-lock bag of creatine that day.
Investigators said that paramedics saw a similar bag of creatine in the couple's kitchen the night Klein collapsed.
According to his statement, Mr. Kim didn't see the cyanide again until May 3, 2013.
At that point, he told investigators, the seal on the bottle was broken.
In the original criminal complaint filed against Mr. Ferrante, investigators said that out of 250 grams of cyanide he purchased in the lab, approximately 8.3 grams were missing.
In his statement to detectives, Mr. Kim also talked about another chemical Mr. Ferrante used in researching Huntingdon's disease.
That chemical, 3-NP, is a neurotoxin known to make a person appear to be tired and sick.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Ferrante asked Mr. Kim to order 3-NP because what they had in the lab had lost its potency.
Mr. Kim said he ordered the chemical at least three times between March and April 2013, "but did not know how much of the 3-NP had been used in their lab studies."
"Kim was also told by Ferrante that he (Ferrante) had 'loaned' the 3-NP to University of Pittsburgh neurosurgery professor Dr. Edward Dixon. Ferrante later told Kim that Dixon returned the 3-NP to Ferrante at an unknown later date," the affidavit states.
But the affidavit continues, "Dr. Dixon was later interviewed regarding the 3-NP and stated that [he] had never asked for or received 3-NP from Ferrante, as described by Dr. Kim."
As for the suicide note, the newly filed affidavit said only that investigators had still been unable to locate -- through a forensic examination -- computer evidence of a "typed and printed 'suicide' letter authored and signed by Ferrante, which was discovered shredded and discarded during a search of Ferrante's residence."
Several computers, iPhones, flash drives and other electronic devices have been seized over the past 14 months related to the investigation.
The affidavit gives no other explanation or content from the suicide letter or if it was dated.
There is a gag order in the case, preventing either side from commenting.
Mr. Ferrante is scheduled to go to trial on the single charge against him -- criminal homicide -- on Sept. 22.
The case will be heard by a jury brought to Pittsburgh from Dauphin County because of extensive pre-trial publicity.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks before Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.
A hearing on defense motions to suppress evidence seized in the case is scheduled for Tuesday.
The prosecution filed its response Friday, telling the court that all of the items seized in the case were taken properly and asking Judge Manning to deny the defense motions.
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