Scientist Accused of Poisoning His Wife With Cyanide

Police say the University of Pittsburgh medical researcher laced an energy supplement with cyanide and told his wife it would help them conceive a child

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A county medical examiner found a lethal level of cyanide in her system.

    The extradition for a University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with fatally poisoning his neurologist wife will be held before a West Virginia judge next week.

    Kristen Keller, the prosecuting attorney in Raleigh County, W.Va., says 64-year-old Dr. Robert Ferrante is due in court Monday afternoon.

    Ferrante was arrested in West Virginia on Thursday after Pittsburgh police flew to Florida to arrest him, only to learn he had left. Authorities haven't said why Ferrante was in Florida.

    His attorney says Ferrante was stopped while he was driving back to Pittsburgh to surrender to a charge that he poisoned 41-year-old Dr. Autumn Klein in April.

    Ferrante has denied that through his defense attorney.

    Ferrante allegedly laced an energy supplement with cyanide before giving it to his wife hours after they exchanged text messages about how the supplement could help them conceive a child, according to a police complaint unsealed Thursday.

    "Will it stimulate egg production too?" Klein asked about nine hours before she fell ill.
     
    He responded with a smiling emoticon.

    Klein, chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, died April 20 after suddenly falling ill at home three days earlier. Blood drawn from Klein had high levels of acid so doctors had it tested for cyanide as a precaution, even noting it was unlikely, according to a police complaint. Those tests revealed a lethal level of cyanide, but only after Klein had died and been cremated at her husband's insistence, police said.
     
    Two days before his wife fell ill, Ferrante allegedly bought more than a half pound of cyanide using a university credit card, which police determined was the only substance he purchased not related to his work, according to an unidentified witness who helped him order "the best and purest cyanide he could get."
     
    Witnesses then saw Ferrante drinking samples of creatine, the energy supplement referenced in the text messages, that he took from the lab and mixed with water and sugar. They told police Ferrante put the creatine in a large, resealable plastic bag.
     
    According to the police complaint, paramedics who responded to a 911 call after Klein collapsed at home saw a small glass vial near a resealable plastic bag containing a white substance that Ferrante told them was creatine.
     
    While the criminal complaint showed Klein may have been trying to get pregnant by Ferrante, he also suspected she was having an affair with a man in Boston.
     
    That man told police he occasionally met Klein for dinner or drinks and that she complained Ferrante was controlling and not supportive of her job or her their daughter.
     
    The man said Klein visited him in Boston overnight in June 2012 and attended a medical conference with him later that year in Atlanta and another in San Francisco in February.
     
    Within weeks of her death, police determined Ferrante confronted Klein three times about whether she was having an affair. Other evidence shows Klein ``intended to have a conversation with Ferrante and that Ferrante would 'not like the discussion,' " police said.
     
    Klein was also an only child and didn't want her 6-year-old daughter to be one too, her mother Lois Klein, 78, of Towson, Md., has told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She said Klein was taking fertility drugs and said police had questioned her about whether Ferrante wanted another child, too.
     
    Klein did not answer her home phone and an answering machine would not take a message Thursday.
     
    Zappala said in a news release that Klein's parents have custody of their granddaughter.
     
    Ferrante and Klein met while she was a student and Ferrante worked at the VA hospital in Bedford, Mass. they were married in 2001. Ferrante worked at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital before moving to Pittsburgh with Klein two years ago to join the university's neurological surgery team.
     
    The university said it is cooperating with the investigation and that Ferrante has been placed in indefinite leave due to the charges. Ferrante has been denied access to the lab since police started investigating Klein's death in May.
     
    A lethal dose of cyanide is about 200 milligrams, about 1/25th the weight of a nickel, said John Trestrail, a pharmacist and expert who taught a class on criminal poisoning at the FBI National Academy.
     
    Cyanide kills by destroying cells.
     
    "In the cells, we have a power plant, so to speak, that produces energy and cyanide basically short-circuits that ability to produce energy, and we can't use oxygen, and the cells die rapidly," Trestrail said. "It goes body-wide."
     


     

     


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