Pitt researcher arrested in wife's death

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Robert Ferrante

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Pittsburgh medical researcher, Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, was found in Beckley, West Virginia Thursday and arrested after a warrant was issued for a charge that he fatally poisoned his wife, a neurologist at the university's medical school.

A national law enforcement bulletin was broadcast Thursday due to reports that the defendant is facing a criminal homicide charge, and has the means to travel anywhere.

Ferrante allegedly killed his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, 41, by lacing a creatine drink with cyanide, after they exchanged text messages about how the substance could help them conceive a child, according to an 11-page complaint by city homicide detectives that was unsealed Thursday.

Pittsburgh police had originally traveled to St. Augustine in search of Ferrante. Police and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., who announced the arrest warrant, would not say why they believed Ferrante was in Florida.

Ferrante's defense attorney, William Difenderfer, has repeatedly denied his client was involved in Klein's death, but didn't immediately return calls and emails for comment.

Klein died April 20 after suddenly falling ill at home three days earlier.

Ferrante reported that his wife suffered a sudden, unknown medical emergency, possibly a stroke, but the county medical examiner said blood drawn from Klein before her death revealed a lethal level of cyanide in her system after her death.

Ferrante called 911 after Klein, chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, collapsed at their home shortly before midnight April 17. According to the police complaint, paramedics saw a small glass vial near a resealable plastic bag containing a white substance that Ferrante told them was creatine.

Ferrante allegedly bought about a half pound of cyanide using a university credit card on April 15, which police determined was the only substance not related to his research work, according to the complaint.

Later, a witness in the lab saw Ferrante drinking samples of creatine he took from the lab after mixing it with water and sugar and told police that Ferrante put the creatine in a large, resealable plastic bag and kept the cyanide in a safe that only he and one other person could access.

Ferrante and Klein met while Klein was a student where Ferrante worked at the VA Hospital in Bedford, Mass. They were married in 2001 and moved to Pittsburgh after being recruited to join the university's neurological surgery team.

Ferrante is considered a leading researcher on the neurological disease known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and worked at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital before moving to Pittsburgh with Klein two years ago.

Ferrante is expected to be extradited from West Virginia to Pittsburgh.

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