PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Day two of the trial of a Pitt researcher accused of killing his wife with cyanide is currently underway.
An emergency room doctor who treated Dr. Autumn Klein testified that when he learned after her death that high levels of cyanide were found in her blood, he immediately notified CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education, fearing that her donated organs might endanger organ recipients.
Dr. Thomas Martin testified that he and others tried to resuscitate Klein for hours, with no success and without knowing why she was near death.
Martin testified that doctors performed CAT scans and other tests to determine what was wrong. Brain scans proved negative and they found no evidence of a heart attack.
Klein died two days later. The report of elevated cyanide levels wasn’t available until after her death, and by then her body had already been cremated.
On cross examination, though, defense attorney Bill Difenderfer pointed out that the initial cyanide level from the lab was revised downward and that CORE’s tests proved negative, and that the organs were successfully harvested.
Dr. Jon Rittenberger, who ordered the cyanide blood test on Klein, testified that doctors were baffled about the cause of her illness as they tried to treat her. He said he ordered the cyanide test to be complete, but admitted he wrote that cyanide “was not likely” because he would have expected that in patients who were pulled out of a burning building, not in a cardiac patient.
He also said her symptoms could have been consistent with cyanide poisoning. The defense says her symptoms were not consistent with the usual signs of cyanide poisoning.
Rittenberger also testified that Klein’s husband, defendant Dr. Robert Ferrante, did not want an autopsy performed.
Dr. Robert Friedlander, a UPMC neurosurgeon and researcher who recruited Ferrante to UPMC, testified that he accompanied Ferrante to the hospital the night Klein collapsed.
Two days later, on the day Klein died, he received an email from Ferrante indicating that Ferrante did not think an autopsy would resolve the cause of death and that Klein desired to be an organ donor.
The email also says their young daughter got a chance to see her mother in the hospital, but that the child “did not think mommy would come back home.”
Ferrante said in the email that broke his heart.
This comes after jurors got a look at surveillance video presented in the case Thursday.
The video shows Klein on her last day of work at UPMC on April 17, 2013.
The video shows Klein leaving work around 11:18 p.m., 30 minutes before her husband Robert Ferrante called 911 saying she had collapsed in their Oakland home.
Jurors also listened to that 911 tape.
During the call, Klein could be heard groaning as Ferrante told the dispatcher he thought she was having a stroke and that she had previous fainting spells.
Here’s part of the call:
911: They’re already on their way, it’s not delaying the call at all. They’ve already been en route, ok. [groaning] Her eyes are still open? [groaning]
Ferrante: Yes, her eyes are still open. [groaning] She’s looking, she just closed them. [groaning] Oh God, help me. God help me. [groaning]
911: OK, like I said I’m sending the paramedics to help you. [groaning] OK, I’m making sure help is on the way. [groaning] Don’t let her have anything to eat or drink. [groaning] OK, Bob?
Ferrante: [groaning] Oh God, help me.
911: OK Bob, OK don’t let her have anything to eat or drink or make her sick and cause problems for the doctor, OK. Just, I want you to let her rest in most comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.
Ferrante: Her, her, her folks are down at Shadyside maybe that would be the best place to take her. [groaning]
911: OK let the paramedics know that when they arrive that you want to have her taken to Shadyside, OK?
Ferrante: I, I, I will. [groaning]
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