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Judge freezes most assets of Pitt researcher accused of poisoning wife

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Dr. Autumn Marie Klein collapsed on April 17, 2013, and died three days later with a lethal concentration of cyanide in her system.

The University of Pittsburgh medical researcher accused of poisoning his wife with cyanide can use a bank account containing nearly $280,000 to pay for expert witnesses and other expenses for his pending trial, but more than $2 million spread across 13 accounts will remain frozen, an Allegheny County judge ruled Monday.

Robert Ferrante, 64, of Schenley Farms is accused of using cyanide to poison his wife, Autumn Marie Klein, 41, a UPMC neurologist who died April 20.

Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman said the money Ferrante can't touch will be used to support the couple's daughter Cianna, 6, and for a potential civil lawsuit payout. A court order froze Ferrante's assets on July 25.

Ferrante's defense attorney, Bill Difenderfer, said Ferrante and Klein earned the money from “a long and very successful career.” About $900,000 was in a joint account or in Klein's name only. The rest was in Ferrante's name alone.

Difenderfer disagreed with the judge freezing his client's assets permanently, arguing that it is an unprecedented move in a homicide trial.

“I do want the ability to relive this after the smoke clears,” he said.

Ferrante, wearing jeans and a light blue button-down shirt, silently sat next to his attorney during the hearing.

Cashman granted Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini a gag order to keep investigators and attorneys from speaking to the media.

Widespread news coverage has made it more difficult to select a jury, Pellegrini said.

Difenderfer said although he has granted some interviews, “I make every effort to not talk to the facts of the case.” He said because of “leaks in the Pittsburgh Police Department, the press know more about this case than I do.”

Investigators allege Ferrante bought cyanide with a Pitt credit card and had it shipped overnight to his laboratory. Two days later, paramedics found Klein unresponsive on the kitchen floor of the couple's home. She died in UPMC Presbyterian.

A custody hearing for Cianna is scheduled for Wednesday. Klein's parents, Bill and Lois Klein of Towson, Md., have temporary custody. Ferrante is being held without bond at the Allegheny County Jail on a homicide charge.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].

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