TUPELO — A Mississippi man who describes himself as a patriot with no grudges against anyone was expected to appear in court today on charges of making and possessing ricin, part of the investigation into poison-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and others.
The arrest of 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke early 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 ties between the two men and an 80-year-old county judge who, along with Obama and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, was among the targets of the letters.
Dutschke’s house, business and vehicles in Tupelo were searched earlier in the week, often by crews in hazardous materials suits, and he had been under surveillance.
Dutschke (pronounced DUHS’-kee) 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.” U.S. attorney Felicia Adams and Daniel McMullen, the FBI agent in charge in Mississippi, made the announcement in a news release.
Dutschke’s attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said she had no comment on the arrest at his Tupelo home, but earlier had said Dutschke was cooperating fully with investigators and insisted he had nothing to do with the letters. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
He already had legal problems. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure. He told The Associated Press last week that his lawyer told him not to comment on those cases.
The letters, which tests showed were tainted with ricin, were sent April 8 to Obama, Wicker and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland.
The first suspect accused by the FBI was Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator. He was arrested on April 17 at his Corinth home, 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 the AP, “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.
Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, said Saturday: “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.”
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.” Curtis’ signoff online was often similar.
Dutschke and Curtis were acquainted. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on a conspiracy that Curtis insists he has uncovered to sell body parts on a black market. But he said they later had a feud.
Curtis’ attorneys have said they believe their client was set up. An FBI agent testified that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of Curtis’ home. Curtis attorney Hal Neilson said the defense gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Curtis and Dutschke’s came up.
Judge Holland also is a common link between the two men, and both know Wicker.
Holland was the presiding judge in a 2004 case in which Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney a year earlier. Holland sentenced him to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.
Holland’s family has had political skirmishes with Dutschke. Her son, Steve Holland, a Democratic state representative, said he thinks his mother’s only encounter with Dutschke was at a rally in the town of Verona in 2007, when Dutschke ran as a Republican against Steve Holland.
Holland said his mother confronted Dutschke after he made a derogatory speech about the Holland family. She demanded that he apologize, which Holland says he did.
Dutschke said Steve Holland exaggerated the incident, and that he has no problem with Sadie Holland. “Everybody loves Sadie, including me,” he said.
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