Pitt researcher waives extradition from West Virginia to face charges in wife's cyanide poisoning

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The University of Pittsburgh medical researcher accused of killing his wife by poisoning her with cyanide is expected to return to Pittsburgh today.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit and wearing shackles, Robert J. Ferrante, 64, appeared briefly in Raleigh County Circuit Court in Beckley, W.Va., on Monday afternoon.

He remained silent except for answering "yes, sir" and "no, sir" during a brief hearing in which he agreed to waive his right to fight extradition, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

Mr. Ferrante was arrested Thursday on Interstate 77 near Beckley on one count of homicide in connection with the death of his wife, 41-year-old Autumn Klein, the head of women's neurology at UPMC. She collapsed in the couple's Oakland home on April 17 and died three days later at UPMC Presbyterian.

By waiving his extradition hearing, Mr. Ferrante sped up the process for his return to Pittsburgh. Early this morning, Allegheny county district attorney's office spokesman Mike Manko said Mr. Ferrante would be in the county's jail by noon. His arraignment is scheduled via video conference at 2 p.m. before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman.

Investigators said Monday night they had not finalized the timetable for Mr. Ferrante's return, but his attorney, William Difenderfer, said he plans to appear before Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman for a pre-arraignment meeting at 2 p.m. today.

Prosecutors continue to seek new evidence in the case. Detective Lyle M. Graber with the Allegheny County district attorney's office obtained a search warrant Monday seeking information from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The warrant sought information, including the IP address or other logs, for instances in which someone "identified as Robert J. Ferrante and/or identified through the submitted email address of bitteralmonds@gmail.com" sought to email a link to a May 2 story titled "Authorities say UPMC doctor had toxic levels of cyanide." That was the first story to appear in the Post-Gazette stating that Klein had died with toxic levels of cyanide in her system.

A smell of bitter almonds can alert some doctors with a sensitive sense of smell to the presence of cyanide in one of their patients, toxicologists have said.

Post-Gazette attorney Fritz Byers said in a statement: "The Post-Gazette responds to all requests for information by first making every effort to ensure the rights of the paper and its readers are fully protected. We will do that in this instance."

Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office, declined to comment on the search warrant.

Mr. Difenderfer did not comment but has said in the past that his client is "adamant that he was not involved" with his wife's death.

Pittsburgh police wrote in an arrest affidavit that paramedics spotted a plastic bag containing white substance -- which Mr. Ferrante told them was creatine -- and a vial sitting in the kitchen when they arrived at the couple's home to treat Klein on the night she collapsed.

Creatine, which often comes in a powder or pill form, is a dietary supplement most commonly used by bodybuilders.

One unidentified witness told detectives that Mr. Ferrante asked two days before his wife collapsed to have cyanide sent overnight and another noted that the hazardous substance was not related to Mr. Ferrante's research, according to the affidavit.

Detectives quoted a friend of Klein as saying that Mr. Ferrante thought his wife was having an affair and she intended to leave him. They also quoted text messages in which Mr. Ferrante encouraged his wife, hours before she collapsed, to take creatine to facilitate egg production.

Several people who have studied or worked with creatine said they have not heard of the substance being used to promote fertility.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 and on Twitter: @LizNavratil. First Published July 29, 2013 7:45 PM


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