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Neuroscientist Charged with Homicide in Wife’s Cyanide Poisoning Death

Hemera/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- A University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist was charged Thursday with criminal homicide in the death of his wife, a doctor, who collapsed in their home and died three days later of acute cyanide poisoning.

Dr. Robert Ferrante, 64, allegedly killed his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, 41, by lacing her creatine drink with cyanide on April 17, the same day the couple had exchanged text messages about how a creatine regimen could help them conceive their second child, according to a criminal complaint released Thursday.

Authorities had previously acknowledged Klein had cyanide in her blood when she died. However, Thursday was the first time her death was publicly labeled a homicide.

Ferrante, who is considered a leading researcher of Lou Gehrig's Disease, was charged on Thursday with one count of criminal homicide.

Ferrante was taken into custody in West Virginia after his counsel apparently advised him to leave Florida, according to the Allegheny County, Pa., District Attorney's Office.

"Because the defendant is facing a criminal homicide charge and has the financial means to travel anywhere, a national law enforcement bulletin was broadcast concerning this defendant," read a statement by Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County DA.

"This evening our office was notified by the West Virginia State Police that they had located the defendant and his vehicle near Beckley, W.Va., and shortly thereafter he was taken into custody," the statement added.  "Our office will be working with prosecutors in West Virginia to extradite the defendant in a timely fashion."

A Pittsburgh Police official said authorities had information Ferrante may have been planning to return to Pittsburgh when he was caught and no additional charges were planned "at this point" based upon his trip from Florida.

A message left for Ferrante's attorney, William Difenderfer, was not immediately returned. However, he has previously denied Ferrante is responsible for his wife's death.

Klein collapsed at her home in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood and later died on April 20 at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where she was chief of the division of women's neurology and an assistant professor of neurology, obstetrics and gynecology.

When paramedics responded to Klein's medical emergency on April 17, they saw a glass vial near a resealable, plastic bag holding a white substance, which Ferrante told them was creatine, the criminal complaint said.

On April 15, two days before Klein collapsed, he used a university credit card to overnight a delivery of cyanide, according to the complaint, despite having no active projects that involved the chemical.

Later, in the days before Klein fell ill, a witness saw Ferrante drinking samples of creatine mixed with water and sugar in the lab, according to the complaint.

The witness told police Ferrante put the creatine in a large, resealable bag and that the cyanide was locked in a safe that was only accessible to Ferrante and one other person.

Investigators said they discovered evidence that Ferrante had confronted his wife three times within weeks of her death as to whether she was having an affair, but stopped short of calling it a possible motive.

In February, while attending a conference in San Francisco, Klein told a male friend that she planned to leave her husband, according to the complaint.

During the time Klein confided this to her male friend, according to the criminal complaint, she received a text message from Ferrante, who said he was coming to the conference.

Klein told her friend this was Ferrante's "controlling nature," according to the complaint, and that he believed there was "something going on" between her and the male friend.

"Further, evidence has been uncovered that reflects that the victim intended to have a conversation with Ferrante and that Ferrante would 'not like the discussion,'" the complaint said.

The couple have a 6-year-old daughter together, who has been placed in the custody of Klein's parents, according to the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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