Test jury yields mixed results in case of Pitt researcher accused of killing wife
An Allegheny County judge weighing a defense request to choose jurors from another county for the homicide trial of a University of Pittsburgh researcher polled potential jurors about their knowledge and opinions of the case Tuesday, but it yielded inconclusive results.
Dr. Robert Ferrante, 65, is accused of poisoning his wife, Autumn Marie Klein, 41, a UPMC neurologist, on April 17. Paramedics found Klein collapsed in their Schenley Farms home, and she died at UPMC Presbyterian on April 20.
Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning asked a room of potential jurors whether they had read, heard or seen anything about the case and whether they had formed an opinion regarding Ferrante’s guilt or innocence.
Of the 78 people in the room, 36 indicated they read or heard something about the case. Of those 36, 13 said they had formed an opinion on Ferrante’s guilt or innocence.
Ferrante sat at a table in the jury room on the third floor of the courthouse flanked by his attorneys, William Difenderfer and Wendy Williams, and across the table from Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus and Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini.
In his courtroom, Manning said the results showed “there is some validity” to Difenderfer’s concerns, and “as each day goes by, there are more who will have read or heard about the case.”
The judge said he would conduct the test at least one more time. If granted, the state Supreme Court would choose from which county jurors would be selected.
“Just because jurors have heard of a case doesn’t mean they’re not qualified to sit on it,” said Judith L. Ritter, a criminal law professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware. “Knowledge doesn’t disqualify, but the theory is the closer people live to the incident, the more emotional it might have been and the more opportunities there is to make up people’s minds.”
The last time a jury from outside Allegheny County heard a case in Pittsburgh was in June 2011 when jurors from Dauphin County sentenced Richard Poplawski to death for killing three Pittsburgh police officers in an ambush at his Stanton Heights home two years earlier.
Attorneys at Tuesday’s hearing updated the judge on the status of the case and established a timeline that includes a trial by mid-September.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.