PITTSBURGH — Attorneys for a University of Pittsburgh medical researcher accused of killing his neurologist wife with cyanide are challenging search warrants and subpoenas that prosecutors used to gather computer evidence in the case.
The defendant, Dr. Robert Ferrante, 65, is accused of lacing an energy drink with cyanide before giving it to his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, 41, in April 2013. She died three days later. Ferrante denies the charges.
The prosecutors’ case relies heavily on computer records that they say show Ferrante bought the poison using a Pitt laboratory credit card, even though cyanide wasn’t related to his research. Prosecutors have also said Ferrante did computer searches five days after his wife died to learn whether treatments Klein received after falling ill would have removed poison from her system.
Defense attorney William Difenderfer argued Thursday that prosecutors wrongly used subpoenas to obtain some computer records from Google and other sources. Difenderfer contends investigators should have instead obtained search warrants, which require prosecutors to present reasons to a judge for why the records should be seized.
Difenderfer is also challenging search warrants used to seize information from Ferrante’s Pitt computer, claiming that action violated Ferrante’s privacy because he also sent personal emails from it.
“There has to be some restriction … on what they can do when they go into a computer,” Difenderfer said. “People keep their entire lives in those things.”
Assistant District Attorney Kee Song said Ferrante knew that Pitt’s policy was that employees should not conduct personal business on their work computers so he didn’t have any expectation of privacy.
But a defense expert, Duquesne University professor Wes Oliver, said employers now expect workers will use their business computers for personal reasons, despite having official policies to the contrary.
“We no longer live in a world where you work at work and you relax at home,” Oliver said. “Any court that believes that is really sort of living in the past.”
Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey A. Manning will take several weeks before ruling whether the evidence can still be used at trial.
Ferrante is scheduled for trial Sept. 22. A jury will be picked in August in Dauphin County and bused in because of extensive pretrial publicity in the Pittsburgh area.