PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – The defense was expected to begin calling witnesses after a final prosecution witness in the trial of a University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with poisoning his neurologist wife with cyanide last year.
The prosecution’s final witness is Dr. Christopher Holstege – a poison and emergency medicine expert from the University of Virginia. He testified that Dr. Autumn Klein’s symptoms and sudden illness was consistent with cyanide poisoning.
He testified that he reviewed the entire medical record of Klein’s treatment at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital shortly after she walked home from work and collapsed.
He testified that she was not alert, not talking, still breathing and showing symptoms consistent with a seizure.
He also listened to the 911 call and testified that 66-year-old Dr. Robert Ferrante’s report that she was staring and groaning with no audible words helped confirm his suspicions.
The report of cyanide in Klein’s blood of 2.2 milligrams per liter was a lethal level in his view.
After cross-examination by the defense the prosecution rested its case. The defense should begin its case this afternoon.
Defense attorneys said they’ll call medical witnesses to cast doubt on the prosecution’s claim that she was even poisoned.
Among those witnesses will be the county’s former coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht a nationally known pathologist who has consulted on the deaths of JonBenet Ramsey and Elvis Presley, among others.
On Friday, The prosecution introduced another email to the jury, this one from Ferrante to his wife Autumn Klein, dated April 16, 2013 – the day before she collapsed.
In it, Ferrante apparently tried to make amends for recent tensions, but perceived she was planning to attend a conference in Boston without him.
“You seemed to be in such a great mood up until last evening,” he wrote. “I am obviously missing something here. I’m sorry for that … it seems obvious to me now that you want to go to Boston alone. I won’t go if that will make you less stressed.”
The conference was planned for early May, and was to be hosted by Dr. Thomas McElrath, who collaborated with Klein on high-risk obstetrics research.
The first witness for the defense is Dr. Robert Middleberg, laboratory director for NMS Labs which was hired by the county medical examiner to conduct a cyanide test but whose equipment was not in service to conduct the test required.
He testified that contaminants in the supplement Creatine look like cyanide due in some tests and that the potential is great for false readings.
When he looked at the entire record, he could not conclude Autumn Klein’s death was caused by cyanide.
Defense attorney Bill Difenderfer asked, “Did she die of cyanide poisoning?”
Middleberg replied, “I do not see strong analytical evidence of that.”
But on cross examination prosecutor Lisa Pellegrini challenged him on why his lab never performed the test assigned, and brought out that his company was being paid $5,000 for his testimony as a defense witness.
“A lot more than you charge for the blood tests,” said the prosecutor.
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