Ricin letters: What's the evidence against new suspect, per the FBI affidavit?
James Everett Dutschke, accused of mailing three letters containing ricin, was arrested Saturday at his home. He is being held without bond until a preliminary hearing Thursday.
The Mississippi man accused of sending poison-laced letters to President Obama and two other public officials allegedly ordered materials used to make the toxic substance on eBay, court documents reveal.
James Everett Dutschke purchased 100 red castor beans, which can be used to make the biotoxin ricin, in November and December 2012, according to eBay records listed in an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday.
“I understand that the number of castor beans ordered is more than sufficient to extract the quantity of ricin found in the three letters," Special Agent Stephen Thomason wrote in the affidavit, Reuters reported. Three letters containing ricin – addressed to Mr. Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi, and Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County, Miss. – were discovered last month.
FBI agents found traces of ricin in Mr. Dutschke’s martial arts studio in Tupelo, Miss., and on items they saw him dump in a public trash can, according to the affidavit. Agents sealed off the martial arts studio, which is located in a small shopping center.
“The FBI is now conducting further forensic examination for the purpose of identifying trace evidence, residues and signatures of production that could provide evidence to support the investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Deborah Madden said Tuesday in a news release.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Dutschke Saturday at his home, and he is being held without bond until a preliminary hearing Thursday in US District Court in Oxford, Miss. If found guilty, he faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for federal criminal charges, which include “knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining, and possessing a biological agent, toxin, and delivery system for use as a weapon,” the FBI said in a statement.
Investigators turned their focus to Dutschke after the former primary suspect, Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis, said he was being framed. Mr. Curtis gave Dutschke’s name because the two men had feuded over the years. Officials released Curtis on April 23 after the FBI failed to find any traces of ricin in his home or vehicle.
“I am very disappointed in decisions made to pursue charges against [Curtis] ... in light of the facts we now know,” Christi McCoy, Curtis’s attorney, said Tuesday afternoon, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.
According to the affidavit, someone used Dutschke’s laptop to download a report on safe handling and storage of ricin soon after the castor beans were delivered to his home address. Dutschke allegedly attempted to clear the computer of the research by reinstalling the operating system on April 22, but state police had already searched his computer after he was arrested in January on separate charges, Agence France-Presse reported.
During its investigation, the FBI found traces of ricin on a dust mask, latex gloves, and a coffee grinder, which can be used to grind the castor beans and produce ricin – all items that the suspect removed from his martial arts studio. The FBI also found documents in Dutschke’s home that had printer markings similar to those found on the ricin-laced letters.
Dutschke told reporters last week that he didn't send the letters, and his lawyer, federal public defender George Lucas, had no comment Tuesday about the evidence in the affidavit.
Law enforcement officials have yet to report how lethal the ricin in the letters was, but a Senate official told The Associated Press that it was not “weaponized,” which means its form could not easily enter the body. There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning, which can be inhaled, ingested, or injected, depending on the form.
• Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.