Mississippi man indicted in poisoned letters case

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi man suspected of sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama and two other officials was charged in a five-count federal indictment made public Monday that could send him to prison for life if he’s convicted.

The indictment charges 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke with developing, producing and stockpiling the poison ricin, threatening the president and others and attempting to impede the investigation. The indictment also alleges that Dutschke mailed the letter in part to retaliate against a rival, who briefly became a suspect in the investigation.

The indictment was made public Monday, but it was dated May 31.

Arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oxford. Dutschke has been jailed without bond since his arrest.

George Lucas, Dutschke’s lawyer, told The Associated Press in an email Monday that his client will plead not guilty to each of the five charges.

Dutschke (pronounced DUHS’-kee) was arrested April 27 at his home in Tupelo. He’s suspected of mailing ricin-laced letters on April 8 to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lee County, Miss., Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.

Dutschke has denied any involvement in the letters.

He is the second person to face charges in the case.

The first, entertainer and Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested on April 17, but the charges were dropped six days later when the investigation shifted to Dutschke.

After his arrest, Curtis said he was framed and pointed investigators to Dutschke. The men had met years earlier while both worked for an insurance company owned by Curtis’ brother. Curtis said they had feuded over the years.

Count five of the indictment says Dutschke mailed the letters “to retaliate against and frame Kevin Curtis.”

The letters contained language that Curtis had often used on his Facebook page, including the line, “I am KC and I approve this message.” The letters also contained the phrase “Missing Pieces,” the same title as an unpublished book Curtis wrote about his belief that there’s a black market for body parts in the United States.

Curtis says he discovered the underground market while running a janitorial service at a hospital. Dutschke briefly owned a small newspaper and the two had discussed publishing the book, but later had a falling out, Curtis has said.

Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, has unsuccessfully run for public offices, such as in 2007 when he challenged Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland, the son of the Mississippi judge who received one of the letters. That letter was the only one to make it to its intended recipient. The others were intercepted at mail sorting centers.

Authorities said that a dust mask Dutschke removed from his former martial arts studio and dumped in a nearby trash can tested positive for ricin and the DNA of two people, including Dutschke. Authorities haven’t said who else’s DNA was on the mask, but an FBI agent testified during a preliminary hearing that most of the genetic material on it belonged to Dutschke.

Authorities said Dutschke used the Internet to make three purchases of castor beans, from which ricin is derived, and researched how to make the poison.

The FBI has not revealed details about how lethal the ricin was. A Senate official has said the ricin was not weaponized, meaning it wasn’t in a form that could easily enter the body. If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. No antidote exists.

__Follow Holbrook Mohr at http://twitter.com/holbrookmohr

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