Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ferrante Seeking to Block Evidence Involving Lab Tech, Neurotoxin

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ferrante Seeking to Block Evidence Involving Lab Tech, Neurotoxin

Article excerpt

Prosecutors want to present evidence of a "prior bad act" by University of Pittsburgh researcher Robert Ferrante in which he allegedly improperly tested a neurotoxin on a lab mouse.

Defense attorneys in a court filing Wednesday called the move "speculative and ambiguous" and said it "would invite the jury to speculate as to its significance."

The document was filed in response to a Sept. 2 motion by the commonwealth, filed under seal, that said prosecutors intended to pursue what is known as 404(b) evidence during Mr. Ferrante's homicide trial in the death of his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein.

Defense attorneys William Difenderfer and Wendy Williams did not file their response under seal, and Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has not yet ruled on the issue. Opening statements in the trial are to begin today.

Mr. Ferrante, a neurological researcher, is accused of killing Dr. Klein, 41, with cyanide, but the subject of the prosecution's motion involves a different toxin, 3-nitropropionic acid, or 3-NP.

According to the defense filing, the prosecution wants to call Pitt laboratory technician Molly Ann Lauver, who worked for Mr. Ferrante for about two years.

"[A]t one point during her work with defendant, Dr. Ferrante directed her to bring him one of the mice so that he could test the potency of 3-nitropropionic acid, a mitochondrial toxin," the defense said. "Ms. Lauver purportedly will testify that she brought a mouse to defendant and then was later summoned by Dr. Ferrante to retrieve the mouse's dead body."

In its response, the defense said the case against Mr. Ferrante is about cyanide.

"Nowhere in this case does the commonwealth allege that defendant used 3-NP to poison Autumn Klein," the defense wrote. "In the voluminous discovery there is no such evidence of that. Thus, the relationship between any alleged impropriety involving a mouse and 3-NP to a wholly distinct incident allegedly involving cyanide and a human is speculative and ambiguous. …

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