Jury finds Ferrante guilty in cyanide poisoning death of wife
November 7, 2014 9:54 PM
Robert Ferrante is escorted to Judge Manning's courtroom earlier during his murder trial in the cyanide poisoning death of his with, Autumn Klein.
Jurors speak to reporters after the Ferrante guilty verdict. Brian Maitz, 30, foreman and juror No. 7, is second from left. Helen Ewing, 25, center, is juror No. 3 at center. Lance DeWeese, right, is juror No. 6, right.
Allegheny County assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini, left, leaves the courthouse after winning a guilty verdict in the murder trial of Robert Ferrante. Assistant district attorney Kevin Chernosky is at the far right.
Robert Ferrante's attorneys, Wendy Williams and William Difenderfer, after the guilty verdict Friday night in the cyanide poisoning death of Mr. Ferrante's wife, Autumn Klein
Judge Jeffrey Manning leaves the Allegheny County Courthouse after the guilty verdict in the murder trial of Robert Ferrante, whom a jury convicted of killing his wife, Autumn Klein, with cyanide.
By Paula Reed Ward and Madasyn Czebiniak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An Allegheny County jury found Robert Ferrante guilty today of first-degree murder in the cyanide death last year of his wife.
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for 15 hours over two days before reaching its verdict about 6:30 p.m.
The verdict means a mandatory prison term of life without parole for the 66-year-old Oakland man, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jury, defense attorney talks about Ferrante verdict
Robert Ferrante's defense attorney, William Difenderfer, talks about the guilty verdict. (Video by John Heller and Rebecca Droke; edited by Melissa Tkach; 11/7/2014)
Mr. Ferrante had no visible reaction when the verdict was read.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning scheduled his sentencing for Feb. 4. Mr. Ferrante was placed in handcuffs and led away by sheriff’s deputies.
Dr. Klein’s parents, who were in the courtroom, declined comment. Her mother appeared trembling and shaken.
He was found guilty of giving his wife, Autumn Klein, cyanide late on April 17, 2013, in their home after she returned from a 15-hour day at work.
Dr. Klein, 41, collapsed in the kitchen of the couple’s home. She was taken to UPMC Presbyterian where she remained on life support until April 20, 2013, when she was declared dead.
Soon after her death, the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office learned that a hospital blood test revealed Dr. Klein had a fatal level of cyanide in her blood.
Pittsburgh police quickly zeroed in on Mr. Ferrante as a suspect.
They learned that he had ordered a 250-gram bottle of potassium cyanide for overnight delivery on April 15, 2013, even though his colleagues said there was no ongoing project at the time that would have required the toxin.
Mr. Ferrante was arrested July 25, 2013, as he drove through West Virginia after having visited his sister in Florida.
Three jurors spoke publicly after the verdict.
"I hope we did justice for them," Lance DeWeese, juror No. 6 and a resident of Green Tree, said. "We have to feel like we did right and tonight I feel right. I feel at peace."
Jurors said the key factors in their decision included the level of cyanide in Dr. Klein's blood, Mr. Ferrante's changing stories during testimony, and his numerous Google searches on cyanide and cyanide poisoning.
"Obviously there was cyanide in the blood and we took into consideration all sides and the main consideration was the 2.2 cyanide level," jury foreman Brian Maitz, of Ross, said. "We determined that was the best test we could have and the lady that delivered the test has been there 37 years. That was a crutch right there that I knew she was doing her job."
Juror No. 3, Helen Ewing, of Brighton Heights, said she felt uncertain during the whole trial.
"For me it was hard to accept and believe he could have done it but the facts were clear," she said.
Mr. DeWeese said no one piece of evidence or testimony was most important.
“There is a multitude of things that pinpoint he's guilty,“ he said.
Mr. DeWeese also said the thought of Autumn Klein committing suicide gripped him for a split second but he returned to Mr. Ferrante.
Mr. Ferrante taking the stand hurt his case, the jurors said.
Ms. Ewing said he had ”excellent coaches.”
"He had a year to think about the story he wanted to tell," she said.
For Mr. DeWeese it was the changing stories.
"This is just a crazy twist and turn. We had heard from day one that Robert Ferrante was downstairs," he said. "One of the last ones to take the stand was Bob Ferrante and all of the sudden the story changes where I'm upstairs and he hears Autumn come in the door."
Jurors also talked about the 911 transcript they requested, which Ms. Ewing said was to check to see whether Mr. Ferrante was prompted by the dispatcher in his wife's symptoms and stroke diagnosis and how they felt the first time they heard the recording.
"It got you in the gut to hear someone helpless and come to the verdict of guilty," said Mr. DeWeese. "It's hard to understand how anyone could do that."
Attorneys in the case gave closing arguments Thursday morning following 10 days of trial, including 50 prosecution witnesses and 19 for the defense.
During the first six hours of deliberation Thursday afternoon, the jury asked two questions.
They requested a copy of the transcript of Mr. Ferrante’s 911 call, and later requested to have the transcript of the testimony given by Jin Ho Kim, Mr. Ferrante’s research associate at his University of Pittsburgh lab.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning told the jurors they were not permitted to have either. He had the 12-minute call played for them again, and passed out transcripts for them to follow along, but for the second request, he told them that since every witness’s testimony could not be provided for the jury, that none would be.