Ricin suspect released, as FBI shifts to new 'person of interest'

Ricin suspect Paul Kevin Curtis said, after his release: 'I thought they said rice.' Curtis's attorney says her client was framed. Federal investigators are looking into potential enemies.

Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle/AP
Paul Kevin Curtis (l.), who had been in custody under suspicion of sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama and others, hugs his attorney, Christi McCoy, during a news conference after his release Tuesday. The FBI is investigating a second suspect.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the charges against a Mississippi man accused of sending poisonous letters to President Obama and two other government officials, as the FBI inspected the home of a second suspect.

Officials did not cite specific reasons for dropping criminal charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, a part-time Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Miss., but a court document said the “ongoing investigation has revealed new information,” reported The New York Times. A pretrial hearing in the case against him, which was under way, was canceled.

The FBI had testified Monday that no physical evidence of ricin or ricin-making materials had been found in Mr. Curtis’s residence or vehicle. Last week, letters addressed to Mr. Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi, and a county judge in Mississippi, Sadie Holland, tested positive for ricin, a deadly biological toxin made from castor beans.

“I thought they said rice and I said, 'I don't even eat rice,' “ Curtis said at a press conference after his release, referring to investigators’ questions. He added, “I respect President Obama. I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other US official.”

Since Curtis's arrest on April 17, his attorneys said their client did not send the letters and suggested that he was being framed. Defense attorney Hal Neilson said they gave a list of Curtis’s potential enemies to authorities.

J. Everett Dutschke, whose house and property the FBI searched Tuesday, is on the list.

“Dutschke came up,” Mr. Neilson told the Associated Press. “[The prosecutors] took it and ran with it. I could not tell you if he's the man or he's not the man, but there was something there they wanted to look into.”

The two men had a confrontation in 2010 when Mr. Dutschke threatened to sue Curtis for claiming to belong to Mensa, a group for people with high IQs, the Associated Press reported.

“I met the guy on two occasions. I wasn't going to be pulled into his fantasy world,” Dutschke said in an interview with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss.

Dutschke has not been arrested, and no charges have been filed against him. The FBI did not comment on what agents found in Dutschke’s home Tuesday evening, but Dutschke told the Associated Press that the FBI had already searched his home last week.

“I don't know how much more of this I can take,” he said Tuesday.

Dutschke, a martial arts instructor and a one-time candidate for Mississippi’s House of Representatives, has faced previous allegations of child molestation, Roll Call reported. A possible motive for Dutschke to allegedly target Judge Holland, who received one of the ricin-laced letters last week, is that her son, Democratic Rep. Daniel Holland, defeated Dutschke in the 2007 state election.

"I'm a patriotic American," Dutschke told the Associated Press. "I don't have any grudges against anybody. I did not send the letters."

Law enforcement authorities investigated a possible fourth ricin letter attack, after a military base near Washington, D.C., went on alert during routine mail screening Tuesday.

The Defense Intelligence Agency said no suspicious letters were found at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, even though Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said that ricin had been detected, Reuters reported.

The DIA said the FBI will conduct further tests, describing the investigation as “ongoing.”

– Material from Associated Press was used in this report. 

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