Prosecution: Keep assets frozen in Pittsburgh cyanide case


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Prosecutors trying the case against a University of Pittsburgh researcher charged with poisoning his wife to death said in court papers filed Tuesday that his bank accounts should remain frozen because he has shown a willingness to deplete his assets in the past.

In the months and years leading up to the death of Autumn Klein, the prosecution said, her husband, Robert Ferrante, transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to his two adult children from accounts belonging to him and to the couple.

In all, the filing said, between May 2011 and April 2013, Mr. Ferrante transferred $126,050 to his adult daughter, Kimberly Ferrante, a physician in San Diego. He transferred $130,455 to his adult son, Michael Ferrante, a certified financial adviser in Wellesley, Mass., between August 2011 and February 2013.

Klein, 41, a physician at UPMC, died April 20 after collapsing at the couple's Oakland home three days earlier.

Mr. Ferrante, 65, was arrested in July and charged with criminal homicide. A hearing on pre-trial motions is scheduled for Monday.

Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman of Allegheny County in August froze nearly all of the assets belonging to Mr. Ferrante. The prosecution said at the time that the couple held joint accounts totaling just under $900,000, while Mr. Ferrante's individual accounts totaled about $2.5 million. Judge Cashman allowed Mr. Ferrante to have access to one account totaling about $280,000 to pay his legal fees.

But in a motion filed Jan. 8, defense attorney William Difenderfer asked that the other accounts be unfrozen because his client needs additional money. The attorney wrote that the case is complex and will require him to hire several experts and investigators.

But in the commonwealth's response, assistant district attorney John Fitzgerald wrote that the funds should remain frozen because they ultimately could be used to pay restitution to the couple's minor daughter if Mr. Ferrante is found guilty of murder.

Among the restitution that could be sought, the filing said, are Klein's lost wages through the duration of her working years, as well as the costs for mental health treatment or counseling for the couple's daughter.

"The commonwealth is prepared to prove, at a hearing ordered for such purpose, that Autumn Klein's lost wages can reasonably be expected to total well in excess of the current financial assets of the defendant," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote.

In a related action last week, county District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. submitted a letter to the county register of wills to provide notice that Klein's estate falls under the provisions of the state Slayer's Act. The law provides that if a person is charged with homicide, and that person would benefit from the decedent's death, then the estate must be held in escrow. If the person is convicted, he or she cannot benefit financially from the victim's death.

Klein's parents, who live in Maryland, have filed for a grant of administration from the county to handle their daughter's estate.

As part of Tuesday's filing in the criminal case, the prosecution noted that investigators found an unexecuted and undated custody order from Massachusetts purporting to give custody of the couple's young daughter to Michael Ferrante.

After Klein's death, her parents sought custody of the daughter, as did Mr. Ferrante's son and daughter-in-law.

Judge Cashman ordered that the girl stay with her maternal grandparents. Since then, Mr. Difenderfer filed a motion on behalf of Mr. Ferrante's adult children seeking visitation with the girl. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who will preside over the criminal trial, denied the motion, saying that issue should be handled by the family court judge presiding over the custody case.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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