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Local police joined search for doctor accused of poisoning wife

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Updated: 7/26/2013 4:59 pm

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A St. Johns County home became the focus of a manhunt Thursday afternoon.

Freelance news photographer Phillip Whitley was there when U.S. Marshals, officers from the Pittsburgh Police Department and St. Johns County deputies converged on the Silo Road home. They were looking for 64-year-old Dr. Robert Ferrante of Pittsburgh.

"There was probably about 15-18 law enforcement there, and they had assault rifles, they had guns, they had the big shields."

For months, police have suspected Ferrante poisoned his wife. He is a University of Pittsburgh professor and considered a leading researcher in Lou Gehrig's disease.  His wife, Dr. Autumn Klein was a neurologist at the University until she suddenly collapsed at their Pittsburgh home and died days later on April 20.  A medical examiner in Pittsburgh found lethal doses of cyanide in her system.

A warrant for his arrest was issued on July 24, and police believe he and the couple's 6-year-old daughter were staying at his sister's home in St. Augustine.

Whitley says officers searched the home for more than 20 minutes.

"They were checking every little place, every nook and cranny in that whole place. I was waiting to hear a bang-bang, but never heard anything.  Thank goodness."

Just before 7 p.m. Thursday, a Pennsylvania district attorney's office annouced Ferrante was found in West Virginia. Following the search in St. Augustine, highway troopers were notified and soon located him driving on I-77 near Beckley, W. Va.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office released this statement this evening following the arrest: “In the course of attempting to execute an arrest warrant for homicide suspect Robert Ferrante today in St. Augustine, Fla., our office was advised that counsel for the defendant had advised him of the warrant earlier today and told him to leave the state of Florida. 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. 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. Our office will be working with prosecutors in West Virginia to extradite the defendant in a timely fashion and on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh Police Department and our office, we would like to thank the West Virginia State Police for their efforts in taking this homicide suspect into custody.”

Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh Police Department says Dr. Ferrante was processed at the West Virginia State Police Post in Beckley, W. Va. and will be transported to the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, W. Va. where he will be incarcerated awaiting arraignment scheduled for Friday. He will then face extradition proceedings to be returned to Pennsylvania.

Kraus also confirmed Ferrante's daughter was found at the St. Augustine home, and that his sister cooperated with the search.

His attorney indicated that Dr. Ferrante was traveling to Pittsburgh and planned to turn himself in.

Action News has learned Sgt. William Tupper of the West Virginia State Police was the officer who pulled Ferrante over Thursday evening. Tupper tells us that Robert Ferrante was traveling by himself, indicated that he was aware of the warrant and that he planned to return to Pittsburgh. He did not tell Tupper if he planned to turn himself in. Tupper says Ferrante was cooperative.

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