Ferrante changes his mind, will have local jury in cyanide death trial

The case involving a University of Pittsburgh researcher who is accused of killing his wife with cyanide will be heard by an Allegheny County jury after all.

Jury selection from a pool of Dauphin County residents was due to begin Monday, with the criminal homicide trial of Robert Ferrante set to begin Sept. 22.

But Tuesday morning, Mr. Ferrante asked Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning to vacate his May order for an out-of-town jury.

Police say the Oakland man gave cyanide to his wife, Autumn Klein, on April 17, 2013. She died three days later at UPMC Presbyterian.

The case has attracted a significant amount of attention, and Mr. Ferrante had requested the out-of-county jury due to the pre-trial publicity.

Earlier this year, Judge Manning conducted a test of the Allegheny County jury pool three times, to get a sense of how many jurors had heard of the case, and how many had formed a fixed opinion about the defendant's guilt or innocence.

Three panels, composed of 224 total potential jurors, yielded 130 who had read or heard about the case, and of those 80 who had formed a fixed opinion.

Judge Manning, in May, said he was reluctant to bring in an out-of-town jury due to the expense, but he said he felt it was appropriate.

After further consideration, however, he said Tuesday that "although this is a very significant case," he said it has not resulted in the same level of "community outrage" as that of two recent cases that involved an out-of-county juries.

An out-of-county jury was selected for the 2011 trial of Richard Poplawski, who was convicted in the killing of three Pittsburgh police officers, as well as for the 2001 trial of Richard Baumhammers, who was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder after a shooting rampage.

Defense attorney William Difenderfer told Judge Manning that his advice to Mr. Ferrante was to withdraw his motion for an outside jury. Mr. Ferrante, in response to questions posed by his attorney and then by Judge Manning, said he was satisfied that a panel of jurors without fixed opinions on the case could be found in Allegheny County.

Jury selection in the case will begin Sept. 22, with the trial to follow.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published September 2, 2014 12:52 PM


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