An ex-martial arts instructor made ricin and put the poison in letters to US President Barack Obama and others, the FBI said on Saturday, days after dropping similar charges against an Elvis impersonator who insisted he had been framed.
The arrest of 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke early on Saturday capped a week in which investigators initially zeroed in on a rival of Dutschke’s, then decided they had the wrong man. The hunt for a suspect revealed tie after small-town tie between the two Mississippi men and the 80-year-old county judge who, along with Obama and US Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, was among the targets of the letters.
Dutschke’s house, business and vehicles in Tupelo, Mississippi, were searched earlier in the week often by crews in hazardous materials suits and he had been under surveillance.
Dutschke was charged with “knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin.” US Attorney Felicia Adams and Daniel McMullen, the FBI agent in charge in Mississippi, made the announcement in a news release on Saturday.
Dutschke’s attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said she had no comment. Earlier in the week she said that Dutschke was cooperating fully with investigators and Dutschke has insisted he had nothing to do with the letters. He was arrested about 12:50am at his house in Tupelo and is expected in court today. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted.
The letters, which tests showed were tainted with ricin, were sent on April 8 to Obama, Wicker and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland.
Wicker spokesman Ryan Taylor said since the investigation was ongoing, the senator could not comment.
The first suspect fingered by the FBI was Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator. He was arrested on April 17, but the charges were dropped six days later and Curtis, who says he was framed, was released from jail.
The focus then turned to Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect, the judge and the senator.
Earlier in the week, as investigators searched his primary residence in Tupelo, Dutschke told reporters: “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
“I’m a patriotic American. I don’t have any grudges against anybody ... I did not send the letters,” Dutschke said.
“We are relieved but also saddened. This crime is nothing short of diabolical. I have seen a lot of meanness in the past two decades, but this stops me in my tracks,” Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, said on Saturday.
Some of the language in the letters was similar to posts on Curtis’ Facebook page and they were signed: “I am KC and I approve this message.”