Prosecutors seek Google searches from computer of Pitt researcher accused in wife's cyanide death
Hours after Pittsburgh homicide detectives interviewed Robert Ferrante about the mysterious death of his wife in April, the University of Pittsburgh researcher used Google to learn whether a medical procedure doctors performed at UPMC Presbyterian would remove traces of poison in her system, search warrants unsealed on Friday show.
Investigators on Wednesday filed a search warrant with the Internet search company to confirm their findings, which they call evidence that Ferrante, 65, poisoned his wife, Autumn Marie Klein, 41, a prominent UPMC neurologist, with cyanide on April 17. She died on April 20.
Ferrante has been at the Allegheny County Jail since his arrest on July 25 in West Virginia. He pleaded not guilty to one count of homicide.
Authorities say Ferrante entered the search phrase “would ecmo or dialysis remove traces of toxins poisons” at 9:32 p.m. on April 25, according to one of five search warrants filed by Lyle M. Graber, a detective in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.
Emergency room doctors at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Oakland used a blood circulation system that performs extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, to pump Klein's blood from her body, supply it with oxygen and pump it back in, according to the criminal complaint filed in July. The complaint does not indicate if Klein's treatment included dialysis.
Witnesses told police Ferrante began speaking about his wife as if she was already dead while doctors were treating her. After she died he said he didn't think an autopsy was necessary, the complaint says. A witness told police it was strange that Ferrante talked about toxins being washed out of her blood within hours of her death.
It's difficult to say if the Google search could play an important role in the case, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor, but prosecutors will likely try to use Ferrante's subsequent actions to show intent.
“This one is very likely to be held relevant, but the defense will certainly put it in a different light,” Ledewitz said. “It's amazing how different things look when the defense has a chance to speak.”
Graber's other search warrants sought several other searches performed on Ferrante's Apple laptop computer between April 10 and May 1. One warrant wanted information from the University of Pittsburgh regarding Ferrante's access to nitropropionic acid, an uncommon toxin. Another sought access to computer hard drives the district attorney's office seized.
Dressed in a dark suit and pattern necktie, Ferrante appeared before Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning on Friday, the first time he has been in court in person since his arrest. He spoke only to his attorneys, William Difenderfer and Wendy L. Williams.
Manning did not rule on a motion requesting permission from Ferrante's two adult children from a previous marriage to contact their half-sister, Cianna, 7.
Cianna has been living with her maternal grandparents, Lois and Bill Klein of Towson, Md., since Judge David Cashman issued a no-contact order in August.
He did not rule on a request to unfreeze more of Ferrante's assets. Cashman previously froze all but $280,000 of Ferrante's money.
After agreeing to comply with a request for a DNA sample, Difenderfer concluded the brief hearing by telling Manning he might request the trial be held outside the county, or that the jury pool comes from another county. A hearing on those potential motions is scheduled for Feb. 10.
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.
- Comeau’s hat trick leads Penguins; Crosby reaches career points
- Pitt plays best game of the season; routs Kansas State
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Trib kicks off annual effort to help feed families for Christmas
- Fatal crash closes Flight 93 chapel in Somerset County
- Starkey: Rutherford will add when timing’s right
- State officials prompt UPMC, Highmark to go to mediation to resolve Medicare dispute
- Families welcome new members on Adoption Day in Westmoreland County
- Police on hunt for suspects in unrelated Penn Township, Manor cases
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Pregnant woman struck by van in North Side dies; doctors save baby