Judge mulls outside jury in doc's cyanide poisoning case

Updated:

PITTSBURGH (AP) (AP)ong> - Defense attorneys asked a judge to bring in jurors from another county to hear the homicide case against a University of Pittsburgh researcher accused of poisoning his neurologist wife.

Allegheny County prosecutors allege that Robert Ferrante, 65, gave Autumn Klein, 41, cyanide in an energy drink April 17 in their Oakland home. She collapsed that night and died three days later.

After Tuesday's motion for an outside jury by defense attorney William Difenderfer, Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Manning polled 78 potential jurors about their knowledge and opinions of the case.

Thirty-six people who had been subpoenaed for jury duty in other cases said they had heard of or read about the case and 13 said they had formed a fixed opinion.

Manning said Tuesday's results indicate that "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."

But he noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys were able to seat a local jury for the trial of Richard Baumhammers in the April 2000 slayings of six people prosecutors said were targeted because they were minorities. In that case, Manning said, 278 jurors were questioned over eight days before the panel was seated.

Ferrante was charged in July after authorities alleged that he had purchased more than a half-pound of the poison using a university credit card two days before Klein fell suddenly ill, even though the toxin isn't related to his research.

Detectives also alleged that they found evidence that Ferrante had done computer searches five days after his wife died to learn whether treatments Klein received after falling suddenly ill would have removed poison from her system.

Ferrante and his attorney have said that he denies any involvement in his wife's death and remains "devastated" by her loss.

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