Homicide

Ex-University of Pittsburgh medical researcher to face life term, dead wife's family in court

A former University of Pittsburgh Medical Center researcher faces a mandatory life sentence — and likely the wrath of his dead wife's family — when he's sentenced for first-degree murder in her cyanide poisoning death.

Robert Ferrante, 66, was convicted in November. Prosecutors didn't pursue the death penalty, so Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning has no option but to impose a life sentence without parole on Wednesday.

The family of his dead wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, a promising, 41-year-old neurologist, said little after the verdict. "Justice for Autumn" were the only words her mother, Lois Klein, of Towson, Maryland, said then.

But Lois Klein was expected to address the court Wednesday about the killing, which has left the couple's 8-year-old daughter, Cianna, parentless and in the custody of Lois Klein and her husband, Bill.

Ferrante has steadfastly denied poisoning Klein by putting cyanide he acknowledged ordering for his research laboratory into a creatine energy drink he allegedly gave her in April 2013, when she came home from work late one night. She immediately collapsed and died three days later, authorities said.

Prosecutors showed the jury text messages in which Ferrante told Klein the drink might help her ovulate and conceive a second child, which witnesses said Klein was obsessed with having. Ferrante, though outwardly supportive, allegedly resented that, however, and feared Klein might divorce him so he killed her instead, according to prosecutors.

A prominent researcher into Lou Gehrig's disease, Ferrante testified he bought the poison only because he used it to mimic the disease's effects on healthy cells in his laboratory. But he also testified that he didn't greet Klein at the couple's back door and hand her the energy drink the night she fell suddenly ill, even though police detectives said Ferrante told them that's what happened when they first interviewed him.

Jurors indicated that alleged change of Ferrante's story, and other evidence, prompted them to reject his denials and convict him.