Federal prosecutors abruptly dropped charges Tuesday against a Mississippi man accused last week of sending letters laced with poisonous ricin to President Barack Obama and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, even as authorities promptly searched the home of another apparent suspect.
The man charged last week, Paul Kevin Curtis, had been released on bond hours earlier in Oxford, Miss., in a perplexing, fast-moving turn of events.
A federal magistrate’s brief court notice stated that charges against the 45-year-old suspect from the northern Mississippi town of Corinth were being withdrawn because “the ongoing investigation has revealed new information.”
Curtis’ attorneys have suggested in court that their client, who has behaved erratically and written angry, rambling posts on the Internet, was framed, noting that the sender signed two of them “I am KC and I approve this message,” just as Curtis typically did on his Facebook page.
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However, U.S. Magistrate S. Allan Alexander in Oxford stated that the charges were being dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning that they could be reinstated if new evidence surfaced.
Curtis was arrested last week, two days after authorities intercepted letters containing ricin, a potentially deadly biological agent found in castor beans, addressed to Obama, Wicker, a Republican, and a Mississippi Justice Court judge.
The Associated Press reported that investigators for the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Capitol Police, some wearing protective suits to shield themselves from hazardous materials, searched the home of Everett Dutschke, a Tupelo resident, on Tuesday.
Dutschke told the AP that he is innocent and knows nothing about the ingredients for ricin. He said that agents asked him about Curtis, whether he would take a polygraph test and if he had ever bought castor beans.
“I’m a patriotic American,” the AP quoted him as saying. “I don’t have any grudges against anybody. I did not send the letters.”
Dutschke did not respond to a call from McClatchy.
Earlier, a third day of hearings over Curtis’ detention was cancelled without explanation. Curtis’ attorney has asserted that a search of Curtis’ vehicle and home found no evidence of ricin or devices that could be used to make it, the AP reported.
The FBI said last week that tests by an outside laboratory had confirmed the presence of ricin in the letters to Obama and Wicker. However, a federal law enforcement official familiar with the matter told McClatchy Tuesday that the tests did not indicate that the granular substance in the letters containing the biological agent was highly potent, or “weaponized,” which would have required a process to chemically extract the toxin from castor beans.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that the incident appears to have gotten disproportionate attention in the news media and that the letters amounted to a sophisticated scare tactic.
At a news conference after he was released, Curtis thanked Wicker "for his kind words about me in the press. And for the record, I have always felt that he is a good and an honest man. I respect President Obama. I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official."