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Klein family files wrongful-death lawsuit against Ferrante

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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.
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Allegheny County District Attorney's Office
Dr. Robert Ferrante

Dr. Autumn Marie Klein’s family is seeking whatever money her killer has left after paying his legal bills.

Downtown lawyer John Gismondi on Friday filed a wrongful death lawsuit against former University of Pittsburgh researcher Robert Ferrante, 66, Klein’s husband. An Allegheny County jury on Nov. 7 convicted Ferrante of first-degree murder in the cyanide poisoning of Klein, a noted UPMC neurologist.

Court records show Ferrante had assets of approximately $2.5 million before his criminal trial. A judge allowed Ferrante to use at least a portion to pay his lawyers and several medical experts who testified on his behalf.

The District Attorney’s Office asked a judge on Friday to freeze Ferrante’s remaining assets and provide an accounting of them.

“We’ll wait and see how things play out,” Gismondi said. “Now is the appropriate time, and we’ll do our best to protect the daughter.”

Gismondi sued in the name of Klein’s mother, Lois Klein, on behalf of the late doctor’s estate and her 8-year-old daughter, Cianna.

Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning will sentence Ferrante to life in prison — the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder — on Feb. 4.

“He’s not going to need the money where he’s going,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. “And I think to some extent, it might even be a lawsuit he doesn’t fight. I would suspect he would want his daughter to have the benefit of these moneys.”

Klein collapsed in the couple’s Oakland home on April 17, 2013. She died three days later in the hospital.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Ferrante purchased a bottle of cyanide two days before his wife’s collapse, and tests showed lethal levels of the poison in her blood.

Gismondi will not have to prove to a civil jury that Ferrante is liable for Klein’s death, legal experts said. The jury in the criminal case made that decision.

“The only element to be decided is the damages,” said Jon Perry, a Downtown civil attorney who is not involved in the case.

Damages likely would include Klein’s predicted future earnings, Perry said. She made more than $200,000 a year, according to court records.

A judge in August 2013 granted Lois Klein and her husband, Bill Klein, of Towson, Md., custody of their granddaughter. Ferrante’s family continues to seek visitation rights.

William Difenderfer, Ferrante’s criminal defense lawyer, said he had not seen the lawsuit, but it was no surprise.

“We’ll look at it and proceed appropriately,” he said.

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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