Trial to continue of man accused of mailing ricin

OXFORD — More discussion was likely today of the mental state of the Mississippi man accused of mailing poisoned letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a local judge.

Christi McCoy, defense attorney for Paul Kevin Curtis, said yesterday she expects testimony from David Daniels, a Tupelo attorney who says Curtis threatened him after a rehearsal for an Elvis impersonators’ show Daniels helped organize in 2002. Also, a law enforcement official was expected to testify about Curtis’ suicide attempt in Chicago in 1991.

Yesterday, FBI agent Brandon Grant testified that Friday searches of Curtis’ vehicle and house in Corinth found no ricin, ingredients for the poison, or devices used to make it. A search of Curtis’ computers found no evidence he researched making ricin.

“There was no apparent ricin, castor beans or any material there that could be used for the manufacturing, like a blender or something,” Grant testified. He speculated that Curtis could have thrown away the processor. Grant said technicians are now doing a “deep dive” on the suspect’s computers after initially finding no “dirty words” indicating Curtis had searched for information on ricin.

Through his lawyer, Curtis has denied involvement in letters sent to Obama, Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, and a Lee County judge. The first of the letters was found April 15.

“The searches are concluded, not one single shred of evidence was found to indicate Kevin could have done this,” McCoy told reporters after the hearing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Allan Alexander ended the hearing after lunch yesterday, citing a personal schedule conflict. After the hearing concluded, McCoy questioned why Curtis would have signed the letters “I am KC and I approve this message,” a phrase he had used on his Facebook page.

McCoy said in court that someone may have framed Curtis, suggesting that a former business associate of Curtis’ brother, a man with whom Curtis had an extended exchange of angry emails, may have set him up.

Still, Grant testified that authorities believe they have the right suspect.

“Given the right mindset and the Internet and the acquisition of material, other people could be involved. However, given information right now, we believe we have the right individual,” he said.

Grant said lab analysis shows the poison is a crude form that could have been created by grinding castor beans in a food processor or coffee grinder.

The detention and preliminary hearing began Friday in U.S. District Court in Oxford. More witnesses besides Grant were expected today.

Federal investigators believe the letters were mailed by Curtis, an Elvis impersonator who family members say suffers from bipolar disorder.

Grant testified Monday that processing codes printed on the letter indicated they had been mailed from Tupelo, Miss., and that investigators were still trying to figure out from the codes exactly where they had been mailed from.

Grant testified Friday that authorities tried to track down the sender of the letters by using a list of Wicker’s constituents with the initials KC, the same initials in the letters. Grant said the list was whittled from thousands to about 100 when investigators isolated the ones who lived in an area that would have a Memphis, Tenn., postmark, which includes many places in north Mississippi. He said Wicker’s staff recognized Curtis as someone who had written the senator before.

All the envelopes and stamps were self-adhesive, Grant said Monday, meaning they won’t yield DNA evidence. He said thus far the envelopes and letters haven’t yielded any fingerprints.

McCoy said the evidence linking the 45-year-old to the crime has hinged on his writings posted online, which were accessible to anyone.

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