Man pleads not guilty to sending ricin-laced letters

TUPELO — A Mississippi man has pleaded not guilty to sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a local judge.

James Everett Dutschke of Tupelo had been scheduled for arraignment tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Oxford. His lawyer, George Lucas, waived Dutschke’s right to appear in a court filing yesterday and entered not guilty pleas to all five counts in the indictment.

Dutschke is charged with sending the letters on April 8 to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.

Lucas had no comment when contacted today. Dutschke has denied any involvement in the letters.

Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor and unsuccessful political candidate, was arrested April 27. He’s being held without bond in the Lafayette County jail.

The indictment charges Dutschke with developing, producing and stockpiling the poison ricin, threatening the president and others and attempting to impede the investigation. The indictment also alleges that Dutschke mailed the letters to retaliate against a rival, who briefly became a suspect in the investigation.

He faces life in prison if convicted.

The first man charged in the case, entertainer and Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis, was arrested on April 17. But the charges were dropped six days later when the investigation shifted to Dutschke.

After his arrest, Curtis said he was framed and pointed investigators to Dutschke. The men had met years earlier while both worked for an insurance company owned by Curtis’ brother. Curtis says they had feuded over the years, but says he doesn’t know exactly what started it.

The letters contained language that Curtis had often used on his Facebook page, including the line, “I am KC and I approve this message.” The letters also contained the phrase “Missing Pieces,” the same title as an unpublished book Curtis wrote about his belief that there’s a black market for body parts in the United States.

Curtis says he discovered the underground market while running a janitorial service at a hospital. Dutschke briefly owned a small newspaper and the two had discussed publishing the book, but later had a falling out, Curtis has said.

Dutschke also had a history with two people who received the letters. He challenged the judge’s son, state Rep. Steve Holland, in a 2007 election and later had a run-in with the family at a rally. He also had previously met Wicker and frequented GOP events to mingle.

In April, Dutschke pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16, at least one of whom was a student at his martial arts studio. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure.

Authorities said that a dust mask Dutschke removed from his former martial arts studio and dumped in a nearby trash can tested positive for ricin and the DNA of two people, including Dutschke. Authorities haven’t said who else’s DNA was on the mask, but an FBI agent testified during a preliminary hearing that most of the genetic material on it belonged to Dutschke.

Authorities said Dutschke used the Internet to make three purchases of castor beans, from which ricin is derived, and researched how to make the poison.

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