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Lack of physical evidence could hinder doctor's prosecution, attorneys say

| Friday, July 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh police quoted 10 unnamed witnesses in laying out their evidence linking UPMC Dr. Robert J. Ferrante to the cyanide poisoning death of his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein.

Attorneys who are not involved in the case noted that none of those witnesses says he or she actually saw a crime occur.

“It's an absolutely, totally circumstantial case,” said Patrick Thomassey, who has defended clients in some of Allegheny County's highest-profile murder cases. “I'm not so sure that the case gets to a jury.”

The police affidavit includes descriptions of Ferrante's behavior and his purchase of cyanide.

“So what? That doesn't say he did anything,” Thomassey responded. “A jury is going to be very reluctant to convict a person of that stature.”

Defense attorney Frank Walker noted that prosecutors sometimes hold back evidence at this stage and might have more.

“With what I've heard, I'd attack the lack of physical evidence,” he said.

Walker said Ferrante's defense strategy likely will focus on trying to determine the identity of the witnesses.

“Who are they? Do they themselves have any motive?” he said. “In these husband-wife cases, the surviving spouse is always the first suspect.”

Thomassey said the defense should play up Ferrante's position in the community, his education and intelligence.

“Is a guy who's this successful going to stoop this low and be this dumb to ruin his life and career over something like this?” Thomassey asked. “It's baffling. There's so many easier ways to have someone killed.

“It does not sound like a strong case.”

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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