Anthrax scientist – and top suspect – dead in apparent suicide

Leading bio-defense researcher Bruce Ivins died Tuesday from an overdose of prescription drugs after learning he would be charged for the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Bruce Ivins, one of America's top bio-defense researchers, apparently committed suicide at his Maryland home shortly after being informed of his impending prosecution for the series of anthrax-tainted letters that killed five people and terrorized the country in 2001, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Mr. Ivins, a leading military anthrax researcher who worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md., had been told about the impending prosecution before reportedly overdosing on prescription drugs.

Ivins also helped the FBI analyze samples from the very same 2001 anthrax attacks for which The Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him, according to the paper.

One US official told the Associated Press that prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty.

For now, investigators are remaining quiet, reports the Washington Post.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined comment early this morning. Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington Field Office, said, "we are not making any public statement at this time or any public comment regarding the anthrax investigation."

Investigators were tightlipped in part because the investigation is ongoing, and also because of their experience with another onetime suspect in the notorious case.

Just weeks ago, the government was made to pay a $5.82 million settlement in a defamation case to Steven Hatfill, another government researcher who was publicly identified as a primary suspect by former Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002.

Some have compared the treatment of suspects in the highly visible anthrax case to the treatment of Richard Jewell, a security guard turned suspect of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, writes the Los Angeles Times.

The anthrax investigation has been troubled from the start, with critics saying that government leaks to the media unfairly targeted suspects like Hatfill who were still the subject of ongoing investigations.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D) of New Jersey, whose district includes Princeton, where anthrax spores were recovered from a mailbox, said the government's payout to Hatfill confirmed that the investigation "was botched from the very beginning."

"The FBI did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous 'theory of the case' that has led to this very expensive dead end," Holt said in a statement.

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