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Networks swarm on death of UPMC doctor

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Dr. Autumn Marie Klein, 41, of Oakland collapsed on April 17, 2013, shortly after returning home from work. She died three days later. Pittsburgh police said Klein, a prominent UPMC neurologist, had a toxic level of cyanide in her blood.

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By Margaret Harding
Monday, May 6, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
 

An investigation into the death of Dr. Autumn Marie Klein is drawing national attention but providing few answers into what led to the demise of the prominent UPMC researcher.

“We're going to go ahead with the investigation that's been started,” said Dr. Karl Williams, Allegheny County medical examiner. “The attention of the national media doesn't have any effect on progress, as far as I'm concerned.”

Major television networks, including CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, planned coverage of the mysterious April 20 death of Klein, 41, chief of women's neurology at UPMC. Klein died in UPMC Presbyterian three days after collapsing in her Schenley Farms home from a toxic amount of cyanide.

“Right now, cause and manner are still pending,” Williams said.

Investigators determined Klein walked home from work on April 17, then collapsed in the home she shared with her husband, Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, a University of Pittsburgh researcher, and their daughter, Cianna, 6.

Ferrante, co-director of the Center for ALS Research and a visiting professor of neurological surgery at Pitt, called emergency dispatchers for assistance.

Ferrante has not commented publicly. He has hired former U.S. Attorney J. Alan Johnson, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, and Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, noted forensic pathologist.

During the weekend, Pittsburgh police searched the couple's Lytton Avenue home. Investigators removed computers, cell phones and vacuum cleaners, among other items. Also examined was Ferrante's office in the Pittsburgh VA hospital in Oakland.

Veterans Affairs spokesman David Cowgill did not return a message seeking comment.

“Both Pitt and UPMC have received subpoenas, and we are cooperating fully with investigators,” UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said. She declined to specify where police searched.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said investigators obtained as many as a dozen search warrants. Detectives are looking into Ferrante's use of cyanide as a researcher.

“Some of the process pertains to the acquisition of cyanide,” Zappala said.

Johnson did not return a message seeking comment. Wecht said national attention can add pressure on police.

“It should not have any effect, in terms of what's there scientifically,” Wecht said. “Science is science.”

Charles Davis, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said national media attention has little effect on investigations and trials. Television shows such as Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace can create a “tsunami of publicity.”

“I don't think they pay one ounce of attention to (Grace) or Cooper,” Davis said of law enforcement. “They just have a job to do.”

In addition to her role at UPMC, Klein was an assistant professor of neurology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Pitt. She treated pregnant women with neurological problems such as headaches and seizures and was recruited by the neurological surgery chairman in 2011.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Staff writers Bobby Kerlik and Aaron Aupperlee contributed.

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