FBI Outlines Evidence In Ricin Case
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's get an update now on the investigation into poisoned letters sent to elected officials including the president. You might recall that a Mississippi man, billed as an Elvis impersonator was the first suspect. He was released after federal authorities couldn't find evidence he had the poison ricin.
A second suspect, now in custody, is also from Mississippi. In an affidavit unveiled yesterday, the FBI outlines its new evidence. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been following these events. Good morning.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: This affidavit links the new suspect - his name is James Everett Dutschke - to the tainted letters. What exactly is the evidence?
ELLIOTT: Well, FBI agent Stephen Thomason outlined several connections to Dutschke in this affidavit. First, he says, tests confirm the presence of ricin, trace amounts of ricin, at Dutschke's shuttered martial arts studio in Tupelo. And on several items, including a dust mask that were found in a nearby trash container, a container that agents say they watched the suspect drive by last week. They were watching him as he left his studio.
Authorities have said that the three letters sent to the president, Mississippi senator Roger Wicker and a local judge, Sadie Holland, all contained ricin. And the affidavit alleges that agents recovered records showing eBay purchases of castor bean seeds. Now, those are the beans that are used to grind up and produce ricin.
And in this garbage the agents say they found a box for a coffee grinder. You know, more circumstantial evidence there. Agent Thomason also described the search of a laptop computer that was found at Dutschke's home that revealed someone had looked up how to make ricin.
MONTAGNE: And remind us what led authorities to Dutschke in the first place. Was he connected to the first suspect?
ELLIOTT: Yes. There's a bit of a tangled web here that's kind of interesting. He has a relationship with the first suspect, that Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth in north Mississippi. He was the Elvis impersonator that you mentioned. They were reported rivals. And authorities had initially targeted Curtis in their investigation because all of the letters that were sent to these public officials contained language that Curtis was known to use in letters that he had written to public officials and on his Facebook page.
Including the sign-off: I'm KC and I approve this message. When FBI agents didn't find any physical evidence of ricin the search of Curtis' home, lawyers for Curtis and Curtis himself apparently had been telling the FBI, look, you know, somebody is trying to frame me. And they started pointing fingers at Dutschke. Dutschke also has ties to Judge Holland, the local judge who had received one of these letters.
At one point Dutschke had run against her son who is a state representative. And that contest was reportedly pretty nasty. And at some point, the FBI affidavit says that Judge Holland had dismissed a civil lawsuit that Dutschke had filed. So there are several connections here that authorities are looking at.
MONTAGNE: And briefly, Debbie, what is Dutschke saying about these accusations?
ELLIOTT: Well, his public defender has had no comment thus far and Dutschke has said nothing since he was arrested. But he did tell the AP last week that he was a patriotic American and that he didn't send the letters. He will be in court tomorrow, in a federal court in Oxford, Mississippi. There will be a preliminary hearing to decide if the FBI actually has enough evidence to hold him in the case. And maybe we'll find out a little more then.
MONTAGNE: Debbie, thanks very much.
ELLIOTT: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Debbie Elliott.
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