PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with poisoning his neurologist wife with cyanide last year took the stand in his own defense Wednesday afternoon.
Dr. Robert Ferrante, 66, testified that he ordered cyanide only for his research, and that his Internet searches were also related to that research, as well as trying to find answers about his wife’s death.
“There are difficulties with previous toxins for my stem cell research, and I believed that cyanide was better for a number of reasons,” he said. “I wanted to know more about cyanide for my research.”
His lawyer asked, “If you had intent to kill your wife with cyanide, wasn’t that already in the lab?”
“Yes, it was,” replied Ferrante.
Lawyer: “Did you mix creatine solution for her that night?”
“No,” replied Ferrante.
He also described the night she collapsed.
“She gave me a kiss and said, ‘Hi hon, love you.’ She gave me a peck on the cheek and fell to the floor,” said Ferrante. “She said, ‘I feel like when this happened the last time in church.'”
Ferrante said his wife had a fainting spell in church at one time.
Regarding an Internet search for the term “malice of forethought,” Ferrante testified that was regarding a colleague in California, accused of scientific fraud to help him recover his career.
He testified that his wife, 41-year-old Dr. Autumn Klein, was depressed over her inability to have another child.
“She once said it’s a good thing Pittsburgh has so many bridges, because it’s a good place to jump off bridges,” said Ferrante. “I told her, don’t think like that.”
He also said he once found communications between his wife and a colleague that disturbed him.
“I saw flirtatious emails to Dr. McElrath,” he testified.
Earlier, former Allegheny County Medical Examiner Cyril Wecht took the stand.
This morning, Dr. Wecht testified that the cause and manner of death, as reported by the current medical examiner, should not have been reported as a cyanide poisoning and a homicide.
He says both cause and manner should be listed as “undetermined.”
Ferrante is charged with lacing his wife’s energy drink with cyanide last year, killing Klein.
“There were tissues around that should have been tested. There are other laboratories in the country to which you then submit it and you see who’s right,” said Dr. Wecht. “You don’t just go ahead and sign the case out and label it as homicide with all the legal, social, personal ramifications that that means, especially to a high level professional person, Dr. Ferrante at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It’s not right.”
Wecht is known for consulting on celebrated death cases, including JonBenet Ramsey and Elvis Presley, and first came to fame as a critic of the Warren Commission, which concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy.
Following Ferrante’s and Wecht’s testimony, the defense rested its case.
The prosecution, which wanted to offer rebuttal witnesses was denied that motion.
Closing arguments begin in the morning and the judge has instructed the jury to bring suitcases tomorrow because once they begin deliberations they will be sequestered.
On Tuesday, the defense delved into Klein’s medical issues. They are issues that the defense says Klein tried to keep hidden, and issues they believe could explain her death.
It’s just part of what Ferrante’s lawyers say points to the fact that he’s innocent.
Dr. Laurie Knepper, a UPMC neurologist, testified she consulted with Klein on a “curbside” basis, meaning the treatment was not formally on the books or entered into the computer system because Klein did not want anyone at the hospital to know about her medical treatment, including her fertility treatments.
But Knepper confirmed that Klein had migraine headaches most of her life, and once had a dizzy spell at church, but that she found no heart problem that contributed to it.
Knepper testified that had she found such a heart problem, she would have entered it into the UPMC system.
Earlier, Edward McCabe, whose funeral home handled the arrangements and cremation for Klein, testified that Ferrante was in no rush to have her body cremated.
The prosecution in opening statements implied Ferrante was anxious to have it done quickly.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday morning.
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