TUPELO — The first time James Everett Dutshcke’s name came up in court regarding ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and others, he wasn’t the man charged in the case. And it was a defense lawyer for the first man to fall under suspicion, not the government, pointing the finger at Dutschke.
That was last month, after a 45-year-old Elvis impersonator Kevin Curtis was arrested in the case and swore he had no knowledge of the letters. He told investigators Dutschke, a longtime foe, may be behind them.
Arrested April 17, Curtis was released after six days in custody. Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, is now under arrest in the case in which ricin was sent to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and a Mississippi judge.
Today, Dutschke is scheduled to face his preliminary and detention hearings at the same time in U.S. District Court in Oxford. Prosecutors were expected to urge he be held without bond on arguments that he poses a danger and a flight risk, as they did during his initial appearance Monday.
Dutschke has denied any involvement. His lawyer, George Lucas, declined comment.
On April 19, investigators searched Curtis’ home and found no evidence of ricin. The same day, the FBI interviewed a witness who said Dutschke had made comments years ago about knowing how to manufacture poison that could be sent to elected officials and “whoever opened these envelopes containing the poison would die,” according an FBI affidavit.
While FBI agents were checking into Dutschke that Friday, federal prosecutors were in court asking a judge to hold Curtis without bond. But Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, argued that federal authorities had no reason to hold him. The hearing resumed Monday, and that’s when McCoy first introduced Dutschke’s name in court as someone who may have sent the letters.
That same day, FBI agents saw Dutschke enter his former Taekwondo studio and remove several items, which he threw in a trash can nearby, according to the FBI affidavit. At least one of those items, a dust mask, later tested positive for ricin, the affidavit said.
Curtis was released from jail the next day, all charges against him dropped.
In the meantime, hazardous materials teams searched Dutschke’s former business, where the FBI said in court papers that it found trace amounts of ricin.
Besides the traces of ricin authorities allegedly found, FBI agents said they also found numerous documents in Dutschke’s home with printer markings similar to ones on letters sent to the officials, according to the affidavit.
Authorities also said they have evidence that Dutschke used the Internet to buy castor beans — used to make ricin — and to look up recipes on how to make ricin, according to the affidavit.
The FBI has not yet revealed details about how lethal the ricin was in traces it reported finding. No antidote exists.
The motive behind the letters is not clear. Curtis says he and Dutschke had feuded for years, but Curtis’ lawyer says she doesn’t believe Curtis was the intended victim, but a scapegoat.
Dutschke, meanwhile, had crossed paths with both Wicker and the Mississippi judge in the past.
Dutschke faces up to life in prison if convicted in the ricin case. He’s also facing unrelated charges.