Evidence Lays Out Ivins' Steps In Anthrax Attacks The Justice Department has made some evidence public in the case of scientist Bruce Ivins, the government's suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people. A U.S. attorney said he is confident that the evidence would have been enough to make the case in court. Ivins committed suicide last week.
NPR logo

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on 'Morning Edition'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93364738/93364724" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Evidence Lays Out Ivins' Steps In Anthrax Attacks

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on 'Morning Edition'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93364738/93364724" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

There can never be a trial of the scientist who committed suicide, so this is the most we get. The FBI has all but closed its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, and it made public the evidence against Dr. Bruce Ivins. He's accused of killing five people by sending anthrax through the mail; then he killed himself last month.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on the evidence.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., Jeffrey Taylor, said the investigators were confident that Ivins was the only person responsible for the attacks. Prosecutors trotted out a litany of circumstantial evidence, which Taylor said didn't diminish the case in any way.

Mr. JEFFREY TAYLOR (U.S. Attorney): Thousands of prosecutors and thousands of court houses across this country every day prove cases beyond a reasonable doubt using circumstantial evidence.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The evidence lay out a narrative of how Ivins could have committed the crime. For example, there was a drying machine that could have helped Ivins dry the anthrax spores and made them lighter before they went into the letters. Ivins was one of the only people in the lab who knew how to use that machine.

There were lab records that seem to suggest that in 2001, before the letters were sent, Ivins was feverishly working on something. Here's Taylor again.

Mr. TAYLOR: In the days leading up to each of the mailings, the documents make clear that Dr. Ivins was working inordinate hours alone at night and on the weekend in the lab where the flask of spores and production equipment were stored.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Ivins's lab badge was pulled in November 2007 as the FBI started closing in. And then there was the question of the envelopes. The anthrax was mailed in envelopes that had a printing anomaly. Taylor said the FBI was able to trace the envelopes to a small number of post offices in the Northeast.

Mr. TAYLOR: Based on the analysis, we were able to conclude that the envelopes used in the mailings were very likely sold in a post office in the Frederick, Maryland area in 2001. Dr. Ivins maintained a post office box at the post office in Frederick from which these pre-franked envelopes with print defects were sold.

TEMPLE-RASTON: As investigators laid out their case, it appeared they could link Ivins to both the anthrax and the envelopes. But the anthrax packages came from New Jersey and Ivins lived in Maryland. Taylor had an explanation for that too.

Mr. TAYLOR: Throughout his adult life, Dr. Ivins had frequently driven to other locations to send packages in the mail under assumed names to disguise his identity as the sender.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The strongest forensic evidence they have is from a new science they say they essentially invented for this case. It is a kind of genetic fingerprinting that allows them to identify the anthrax in the letters more precisely. They were able to identify what they called the parent material of the anthrax, and that led them to Ivins.

Mr. TAYLOR: We thoroughly investigated every other person who could've had access to the flask and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI has been trying to say that Ivins's motive has to do with an anthrax vaccine he was developing. But his emails offer another possible explanation. Ivins had mental problems. In December 2001 he emailed a friend three poems. One of them read: Bruce and this other guy sitting by some trees, exchanging personalities. It's like having two in one - actually, it's rather fun.

The investigation revealed that Ivins was prescribed various antidepressants and anti-psychotics from 2000 to 2006. The evidence seemed to convince Patrick O'Donnell, a postal worker from Levittown, Pennsylvania. NPR reached him on his cell phone after he and other victims were briefed by FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Mr. PATRICK O'DONNELL (Postal Worker): I was very, very skeptical when I walked in there and when I walked out I was 99 percent sure that they had the right guy.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The lawyer for Ivins, Paul Kemp, said that his client was innocent. He declined to speak on tape but said in a statement, quote, "The idea that anyone could say that they could convict someone with what they have is stunning," unquote.

The problem is that Ivins's suicide means prosecutors will never have their day in court, so the case will always seem somehow unfinished. Taylor said as much.

Mr. TAYLOR: We regret that we will not have the opportunity to present the evidence to a jury to determine whether the evidence establishes Dr. Ivins's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

TEMPLE-RASTON: What the FBI is waiting to find out is whether they have established his guilt in a different court - the court of public opinion.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.