Warrants show wide scope in cyanide probe

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Robert Ferrante told police he put his wife on a creatine regimen to help her get pregnant and even mixed the awful-tasting substance in sugary drinks for her or with cinnamon and sugar for her morning toast, police said in previously sealed search warrants the Tribune-Review obtained on Monday.

Police suspect Ferrante, a neuroscientist, supplied Autumn Marie Klein, 41, a UPMC neurologist, with the cyanide that killed her and focused on the creatine she took. Experts say the muscle-enhancing substance does not aid women's fertility, but the criminal complaint says Ferrante urged her to take it for that purpose.

Ferrante's attorney, William Difenderfer, declined to discuss police allegations but said Ferrante plans to fight charges and is looking forward to the trial.

Ferrante, 64, of Schenley Farms waived a West Virginia extradition hearing and will face charges in Pittsburgh.

Fourteen police search warrants officials unsealed as a result of a Trib inquiry reveal how police searched for evidence of the deadly poison after Klein died on April 20. Several warrants remain sealed.

Police said a witness saw Ferrante mixing and drinking creatine in his University of Pittsburgh laboratory — a lab that stored cyanide — in the days before his wife's death.

Places police obtained warrants to search include Ferrante's UPMC laboratory on Lothrop Street; his Pitt office on Terrace Street; Ferrante's Veterans Affairs offices and labs; the couple's two-story brick home on Lytton Avenue; his 2011 Hyundai; Klein's 2006 Honda; and Klein's UPMC office on Fifth Avenue.

Nearly all the warrants specify that police sought Ferrante's connections with cyanide.

The warrants show detectives pored over Ferrante's lab purchases, lab inspection reports, his grants and chemical inventories. Detectives asked to review Klein's prescription bottles, utensils and personal hygiene products. Detectives asked to track the comings and goings of Ferrante and his wife in their offices through security access cards.

One warrant for his Pitt lab in Scaife Hall stated that police were looking for “evidence of cyanide or creatine, any and all items that are capable of storing, transporting or delivering cyanide or creatine. To include but not limited to utensils, bottles and containers within the laboratory area.”

According to the affidavit to support that warrant, police on May 9 found in his Pitt lab “one additional” container labeled “cyanide” in a freezer and one container labeled creatine in a cabinet labeled “dry chemicals.” Four more containers labeled creatine were on a shelf.

Another warrant sheds light on the final minutes before Klein collapsed.

Ferrante told police he was at home late in the evening of April 17 when his wife returned from work. Ferrante said she kissed him on the cheek, said she was not feeling well and passed out on the kitchen floor. Ferrante said she wasn't unconscious but was unable to speak and had an “upward gaze,” one document said. He said he called 911 and the operator gave him instructions how to perform CPR.

After calling 911, he called a friend and told him what was occurring, according to the affidavit to support the warrant.

One warrant states that Klein's organs were removed in the hospital for donation before her autopsy on April 21.

Detectives talked to at least one of Klein's colleagues, Dr. Maria Baldwin, who works in the same office and who told police that Klein did not work in a research laboratory and would not have access to or need cyanide in her practice.

Tony Gaskew, a professor of criminal justice, said Ferrante's claim of a creatine regimen could help prosecutors.

“It's going to help them with the motivation,” said Gaskew, director of the criminal justice program at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. “They're going to see this as another factor he predetermined to use (creatine) as an alibi. It sounds ready-made.”

Pittsburgh police plan to travel to West Virginia on Tuesday morning to return Ferrante to the city for arraignment in the afternoon. West Virginia State Police arrested Ferrante on Thursday as he drove from his sister's home in St. Augustine, Fla., to Pittsburgh. Difenderfer said that as soon as he knew police planned to file charges, he told his client to drive to Pittsburgh and turn himself in.

During the 10-minute hearing, Ferrante spoke little. He leaned into a microphone and clearly answered, “Yes sir” and “No sir,” to a series of formal questions Raleigh County Chief Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick asked.

Ferrante was expressionless during the hearing. He kept his head down as he shuffled in and out of the courtroom, wearing leg shackles and handcuffs. He wore an orange jail jumpsuit.

Police say Ferrante, co-director of the Center for ALS Research and a visiting professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, bought a bottle of cyanide with a Pitt credit card on April 15 and had it shipped overnight to his laboratory.

Two days later, paramedics found Klein unresponsive on the kitchen floor of the pair's home and took her to UPMC Presbyterian.

She died with a lethal amount of cyanide in her system.

Trib Total Media staff writers Aaron Aupperlee, Margaret Harding and Adam Brandolph contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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