Ferrante jury finishes day’s deliberations without reaching verdict
Robert Ferrante either intentionally killed his wife or is “the unluckiest man in the world,” Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini told jurors Thursday during her closing argument.
The prosecution’s evidence against Ferrante — including Internet searches for “cyanide poisoning,” his purchase of the fatal poison two days before his wife collapsed and a test that showed a lethal amount of the substance in his wife’s blood — “all just has to be coincidence,” Pellegrini said.
“Or else: guilty.”
Ferrante, 66, a University of Pittsburgh researcher, is accused of killing his wife, noted UPMC neurologist Autumn Marie Klein, by slipping her a fatal dose of cyanide. Klein, 41, collapsed inside the couple’s Oakland home April 17, 2013, and died three days later at UPMC Presbyterian.
The Allegheny County jury of eight men and four women deliberated for six hours Thursday, finishing at 7 p.m. Deliberations are to resume Friday morning.
Ferrante’s trial before Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning began Oct. 23 and included testimony from medical experts for the prosecution and defense and from Ferrante himself.
Pitt law professor John Burkoff said observers shouldn’t take anything away from Ferrante’s decision to testify.
“It’s the defendant’s choice. It’s not the lawyer’s choice,” Burkoff said. “His defense counsel can and did advise him one way or the other, but the defendant doesn’t have to listen.”
Testifying in one’s defense, Burkoff said, has its pros and cons. Ferrante might not have come off as credible, but the jury could have interpreted not testifying as Ferrante having something to hide.
“When we hear of these alleged criminal acts, we would like to hear from the person accused,” Burkoff said.
Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket, court staff, lawyers, family members and the media packed Manning’s courtroom for closing arguments.
Defense attorney William Difenderfer urged the jury to look past what he called “headlines.”
“This case is about whether or not my client intentionally murdered his wife,” Difenderfer said. “Don’t go jumping to conclusions because it may not be what you think. … The prosecution has taken headlines, and they’re asking you to fill in the gaps.”
Medical experts who testified for the defense, including Dr. Cyril Wecht, the famed Pittsburgh forensic pathologist, disregarded a positive result for cyanide in Klein’s blood from Quest Diagnostics because it conflicted with another test done by NMS Labs in suburban Philadelphia. They said the symptoms Klein experienced could have been caused by a number of things, including an irregular heartbeat — or cyanide poisoning.
Jurors listened intently while Pellegrini reviewed the evidence investigators collected against Ferrante, including the Google searches leading up to and in the days following Klein’s death, and his fingerprints on the bottle of cyanide. Pellegrini said the one question she had was why Ferrante didn’t wait and poison his wife during a planned weekend getaway at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort a few days later. The closest hospital to Nemacolin is several miles away and is not a Level 1 trauma center as UPMC Presbyterian is.
“He was one blood test away from getting away with the perfect murder. If he had done it at Nemalcolin, he would have gotten away with murder,” she said.
Difenderfer said Ferrante and Klein planned the Nemacolin trip to rejuvenate their marriage. They went on a family vacation to Puerto Rico in March 2013 and continued trying to have a second child in early April 2013.
“If you’re going to leave somebody, does it make sense that before we break up I want to have your kid again?” Difenderfer said.
Pellegrini called Ferrante “brilliant” but a “master manipulator.”
“He is brilliant. People liked him. That’s what makes this crime so diabolical. He’s a master manipulator. He shows one side here; he shows one side there,” she said.