Attorneys argue about evidence for upcoming trial in cyanide death

Updated:

Loading

PITTSBURGH - Defense attorneys for a University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of killing his wife with cyanide squabbled with prosecutors on Tuesday over the use of a forensic toxicologist at trial next month.

Attorneys for Robert Ferrante, 65, said at a pre-trial conference that they want to call Dr. Robert A. Middleberg, vice president of NMS Labs in Philadelphia, as an expert witness to discuss the levels of cyanide found in the blood of Ferrante's wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, a UPMC neurologist.

This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.

Klein died on April 20, 2013, three days after collapsing in the couple's Schenley Farms home.

Ferrante is charged with one count of homicide. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 8 in Dauphin County. The trial before Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning will begin Sept. 22.

William Difenderfer, one of Ferrante's lawyers, said the results from NMS Labs showed that Klein's blood had “non-fatal” levels of cyanide.

Test results from another lab showed higher levels of cyanide in her blood.

Prosecutors said they believe there is a conflict of interest if Middleberg testifies for the defense, because his lab contracted with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office to test Klein's blood.

On another issue, Manning agreed to have Ferrante provide major case prints — which include prints of fingers, fingertips, finger joints, edges of fingers and his palm — to compare to a print found on a partially-filled, 250-gram bottle of cyanide that members of the city's Mobile Crime Unit collected from Ferrante's laboratory in Oakland shortly after Klein's death.

Investigators have said Ferrante ordered the chemical through his lab on April 15, 2013, and stored it in his lab.

Prosecutors said they intended to use at trial evidence taken from a Macbook Air laptop computer found inside a safe at Ferrante's lab. Difenderfer told Manning he may file motions seeking to exclude the evidence.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.