Pitt researcher accused of killing wife with cyanide will stand trial for homicide
Either prosecutors offered Robert Ferrante something in exchange for waiving his preliminary hearing, or the attorney representing the University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of fatally poisoning his wife with cyanide has all the information he needs to go to trial, legal experts said on Friday.
“It's interesting that he chose to waive it,” said Duquesne University law professor Wesley Oliver. “The usual protocol is you want to have the preliminary hearing to learn everything you can about the case, unless the prosecution is going to give you something for not putting them through the work.”
Ferrante, 64, is accused of lacing an energy drink with cyanide to kill his wife, Autumn Marie Klein, 41, a prominent UPMC neurologist who died April 20. He is being held at Allegheny County Jail without bond.
Defendants have the right to waive their preliminary hearing at any time, Oliver said. Preliminary hearings generally establish that there's enough probable cause that the defendant committed the crimes for which he or she is accused, and it's an early method of discovery in criminal cases, he said.
Ferrante on Friday waived the single charge of homicide against him at a closed hearing before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman. He scheduled a formal arraignment for Nov. 6.
Ferrante's defense attorney, William Difenderfer, did not return calls. He previously said his client “adamantly” denies killing his wife. Cashman imposed a gag order on attorneys in the case.
“I can only speculate, but one of the things (Difenderfer) may be thinking is that he pretty much knows the prosecution's case, that it's no real mystery to him,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. “If that's true, then why go through with this because if you do, it exposes your client to media attention.
“Sometimes, preliminary hearings are waived because the prosecution and defense are having some discussion about plea arrangements and there may be no necessity for the hearing.”
Police said Ferrante bought cyanide with a Pitt credit card on April 15 and had it shipped overnight to his laboratory. He called 911 on April 17 to report that Klein collapsed at the couple's home in Schenley Farms; paramedics found her unresponsive on the kitchen floor. She died three days later in UPMC Presbyterian.
Pitt placed Ferrante on indefinite leave shortly after police filed the charge.
Oliver said it's possible Difenderfer received something he would not otherwise have been entitled to — from visits for Ferrante with his daughter, Cianna, 6, to evidence in the case. Cashman placed the child in the custody of Klein's parents, Lois, 78, and Bill Klein, 76, of Towson, Md.
“There could be all kinds of trades going on here. But if there's a real defense here, unless there's something substantial offered in exchange for a waiver of hearing, I always question what the strategy is,” he said.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Web-savvy terrorists have success luring U.S. recruits with social media
- North Side toymaker Digital Dream Labs starts strong in 1st holiday season
- Mt. Pleasant Area School Board puts limit on taxes for 2016-17
- Pirates showing interest in starting pitcher Masterson
- Stylish, inexpensive dress takes television newsrooms by storm
- Pitt’s surge goes for naught as No. 11 Purdue prevails
- Automakers feast on deals in November
- Pittsburgh attorney cites Pa. AG’s suspension in dismissal attempt
- Monessen Civic Center to host ‘Christmas Show’
- Express Scripts to offer alternative to $750 toxoplasmosis medication
- Overseas data, financial shares lead stocks to strong December start