The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 27, 2013

Extradition hearing set for Monday

Raleigh Co. prosecutors to handle case of doctor accused of poisoning wife

Raleigh County prosecutors will handle a Monday extradition hearing for a University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with fatally poisoning his neurologist wife with cyanide.

Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, was jailed without bond after West Virginia State Police stopped him Thursday night near Beckley after Pittsburgh police couldn’t find him at a residence in St. Augustine, Fla., where detectives flew earlier in the day intending to arrest him.

Authorities haven’t said why Ferrante was in Florida. Allegheny County, Pa., prosecutors accused defense attorney William Difenderfer of tipping off Ferrante so he could avoid arrest.

However, Difenderfer said Ferrante wasn’t fleeing police and was simply stopped while driving back to Pennsylvania to surrender on a criminal homicide charge.

The attorney said he simply contacted Ferrante at dawn Thursday and told him to surrender in Pittsburgh once the attorney learned police had an arrest warrant for Ferrante.

Ferrante remains lodged at Southern Regional Jail at Beaver until Monday’s hearing. When extradited to Pennsylvania, he will face a charge of criminal homicide in the April death of his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein.

Pittsburgh police or the county sheriff will bring Ferrante to Pittsburgh once the extradition situation is resolved, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., whose office is prosecuting Ferrante.

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 her had high levels of acid so doctors had it tested for cyanide as a precaution, even noting it was unlikely, the police complaint said. 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 Klein fell ill, Ferrante, a leading researcher on Lou Gehrig’s disease, used a university credit card to buy more than a half-pound of cyanide, which police determined was the only substance he purchased not related to his work, authorities said.


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