PITTSBURGH (AP) — A University of Pittsburgh medical researcher charged with fatally poisoned his neurologist wife with cyanide wasn’t fleeing police when he left Florida — he was simply driving back to Pennsylvania to surrender, his attorney said Friday.
Instead, West Virginia State Police stopped Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, on Thursday night after Pittsburgh police couldn’t find Ferrante at a residence in St. Augustine, Fla., where city detectives flew earlier in the day intending to arrest him. Authorities haven’t said why Ferrante was in Florida.
Allegheny County prosecutors accused Ferrante’s attorney of tipping off his client so he could avoid arrest. But defense attorney William Difenderfer told reporters Thursday that he simply contacted Ferrante at dawn and told him to return to Pittsburgh so he could surrender.
Now Ferrante is jailed without bond in Beckley, W.Va., until he can be extradited to Pennsylvania to face a charge of criminal homicide in the April death of his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein. The extradition process is expected to take a few days.
Raleigh County, W.Va., prosecutors will handle an extradition hearing, unless Ferrante waives that. An official with that office said it wasn’t clear whether Ferrante would appear in court Friday or next week.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, said officials there have been told not to expect an extradition hearing until Monday; “however, things could change, allowing for a court appearance this afternoon.”
Pittsburgh police or the county sheriff will bring back Ferrante once the extradition situation is resolved, Manko said.
Klein, chief of women’s neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, died April 20 after suddenly falling ill at home three days earlier. Blood drawn from her had high levels of acid so doctors had it tested for cyanide as a precaution, even noting it was unlikely, the police complaint said. Those tests revealed a lethal level of cyanide, but only after Klein had died and been cremated at her husband’s insistence, police said.
Two days before Klein fell ill, Ferrante, a leading researcher on Lou Gehrig’s disease, used a university credit card to buy more than a half-pound of cyanide, which police determined was the only substance he purchased not related to his work, authorities said.