Dec 11, 3:28 PM EST

Man who poisoned wife seeks trust for daughter, 7

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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A former University of Pittsburgh researcher convicted last month of fatally poisoning his neurologist wife wants a judge to unfreeze his assets so he can pay his legal bills and establish a trust fund for their 7-year-old daughter.

Attorneys for Robert Ferrante, 66, argued in a court filing Tuesday that a previous court order freezing his assets is violating his rights to fund his defense, and merely preserving the money so his wife's family, and its attorney, have assets to go after in a wrongful death suit, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ( http://bit.ly/12Reck9 ) reported Thursday.

John Gismondi, who represents Dr. Autumn Klein's mother, Lois, in that lawsuit, said he doesn't necessarily oppose a trust fund, since any money won in the suit would be used to compensate Ferrante and Klein's daughter, Cianna. But he objects to Ferrante's request that the trust be administered by Ferrante's adult son from a previous marriage, a financial planner who lives near Boston.

"He shouldn't be the one determining what terms of a trust may be acceptable to her," Gismondi said, referring to Ferrante. "This seems to be an attempt by him to try to exert control from his jail cell."

But Ferrante's attorneys contend that, "No authority, statutory or otherwise, permits the commonwealth to freeze defendant's assets in order to ensure that Lois Klein's personal injury attorney, John Gismondi, can recover a fee of several hundred thousand dollars." Attorneys in wrongful death lawsuits typically receive anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of any monetary verdict.

Ferrante remains in the Allegheny County jail without bond until he is sentenced on Feb. 4. Because he was convicted of first-degree murder in Klein's April 2013 death, he faces a mandatory life sentence without parole.

Ferrante previously was given court permission to use some assets for his criminal defense, and it's not clear how much he has spent. Defense attorney William Difenderfer has suggested Ferrante has little remaining wealth to go after.

But apart from the wrongful death litigation, the Allegheny County district attorney's office filed a motion asking a judge to require that Ferrante account for his assets. The DA is doing that because prosecutors may seek restitution as part of Ferrante's sentence, and because records indicate Ferrante has transferred some assets to his two adult children from his first marriage. Testimony at trial indicated Ferrante had assets worth at least $2.5 million.

The jury found that Ferrante ordered cyanide using a university-issued charge card and laced an energy drink he gave Klein, 41. Text messages from the night Klein fell ill show Ferrante suggested the drink would help Klein conceive another child, which her family and friends said Klein desperately sought. She died three days later.

Ferrante denied poisoning Klein and disputed whether that caused her death at all. He testified he ordered the cyanide because it could be used in stem cell research related to his work involving Lou Gehrig's disease.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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