Ferrante's defense argues to suppress evidence


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Defense attorneys trying to suppress evidence seized against Robert Ferrante from his offices and computers argued Thursday that search warrants obtained by the prosecution in the case were too broad and invalid.

But the district attorney's office told the judge hearing the case that Mr. Ferrante's lawyers can't even get to that argument because their client had no expectation of privacy in his University of Pittsburgh research lab to protect.

Mr. Ferrante, 65, is accused of using cyanide to kill his wife, Autumn Klein, who led the division of women's neurology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, in April 2013.

He was charged with a single count of criminal homicide in July 2013, and investigators have served dozens of search warrants in the case, including at Mr. Ferrante's University of Pittsburgh offices -- both for items within the lab, as well as information contained within the computers he used.

Defense attorneys William Difenderfer and Wendy Williams have sought to suppress that evidence and argued Thursday before Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

“He clearly has an expectation of privacy in his office, on his computer,” Mr. Difenderfer said. “Citizens leave their whole lives in their computers. There has to be some restriction. There has to be some particulars as to what they can look at.” 

But assistant district attorney Kee Song called the executive administrator for the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, which employed Mr. Ferrante. David Bissonette testified that when Mr. Ferrante signed his offer letter to accept employment on Jan. 25, 2011, he was agreeing to the policies of the university -- among them the computer use policy.

It states, in part, that university computers and networks are to be used for "university-related activities. ... The university, as owner of such property, has the right to access information on the system stored, sent, created or received by employees, including electronic mail, as it deems necessary and appropriate. As such, employees should not expect individual privacy in the system."

Mr. Difenderfer asked Mr. Bissonette if he knew if his client ever read the policies or accepted to follow them. The witness said he did not know, but that they were provided to Mr. Ferrante through an online link listed in his offer letter. 

“Even assuming the defendant did not read the policies ... he knew his employer could look in his work computers,” Mr. Song said. 

“Does the expectation of privacy mean that simply because Pitt can look at it, law enforcement can look at it?” Judge Manning asked. 

The prosecution agreed it does.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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