Attorney for researcher accused of wife's cyanide poisoning death won't seek to move trial
A lawyer representing a University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of killing his wife with cyanide said Friday that he likely will not seek to move his client's trial outside of Allegheny County.
Attorney William Difenderfer told Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning he doesn't plan to ask to move the trial for Robert Ferrante or find a jury from outside the county.
Ferrante, 65, was not present for a pre-trial hearing with prosecutors. He remains in the Allegheny County Jail, charged with homicide in the April 20 death of UPMC neurologist Autumn Klein, 41.
“Your Honor is familiar with my belief that there's very good reasons for the defense,” Difenderfer said.
Difenderfer could not elaborate after the hearing because of a gag order in the case, but he has a track record of keeping high-profile cases within the county. Difenderfer represented mass killer Richard Baumhammers and did not seek to move that case, despite intense news media scrutiny.
He has said he believed an Allegheny County jury might be more willing to listen to a mental health defense for Baumhammers, who remains on death row for a 2001 conviction for the April 28, 2000, racially-motivated shooting spree through the South Hills and Beaver County that killed five people. A sixth person died of his injuries in 2007.
Police accuse Ferrante of lacing an energy drink with cyanide to kill his wife. Ferrante pleaded not guilty when arraigned in July and has denied involvement in her death.
Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said it's probably wise for the defense to have an Allegheny County jury hear the case, despite widespread publicity.
“The benefit of moving the case is that, if you have a jury from somewhere else, they're not biased because they haven't heard about it — and if there's evidence around in the newspapers that the jury won't hear, it's good to move it,” Ledewitz said.
Despite that, he said it's likely at least half the potential jury pool hasn't heard of the Ferrante case. Allegheny County jurors tend to lean more toward the defense than the statewide jury pool, he said. Educated people, Catholics, minorities, and members of labor unions tend to be more defense-oriented, Ledewitz said.
“In the universe of jurors, some groups are more likely to believe the police and some are more likely to be skeptical,” he said.
Manning set Feb. 10 to hear pretrial motions and signed an order allowing Ferrante to use a laptop while in jail to review prosecutors' evidence. Police obtained 63 search warrants in the case.
Police say Ferrante bought cyanide with a Pitt credit card on April 15 and had it shipped to his laboratory. On April 17, he called 911 to say Klein collapsed at home. Paramedics found her unresponsive on the kitchen floor. She died three days later.
Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7886.
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.
- Steelers stalled by Seahawks, on outside of AFC wild-card picture
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger reported symptoms that led to his exit vs. Seahawks
- Rossi: It’s past time for NFL to protect players
- Steelers notebook: Seahawks’ Sherman gets better of WR Brown
- Steelers players say they support Tomlin’s attempts at deception
- Week 12 — Steelers-Seahawks gameday grades
- Fox Chapel grad VIllani performing magic for Wizards
- Pennsylvania Game Commission reaps revenue from shale gas under game lands
- University of Pittsburgh researchers revisit war of electric currents
- Sports Deli is latest tenant to say goodbye to Parkway Center Mall
- Family of man accused of shooting St. Clair officer say allegations don’t fit his character