ABERDEEN — A Mississippi man who pleaded guilty to sending letters dusted with the poison ricin to President Barack Obama and other officials was sentenced yesterday to 25 years in prison.
James Everett Dutschke was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen after telling the judge May 13 that he had changed his mind about wanting to withdraw his guilty plea in the case. He also was sentenced to five years of supervised release and remains in federal custody.
Dutschke waived his right to appeal. He wasn’t fined or ordered to pay restitution because he doesn’t have enough money, federal prosecutor Chad Lamar said.
Unlike last week, Dutschke said little and allowed his lawyer to do the talking, Lamar said.
The 42-year-old Tupelo resident sent the letters to Obama, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland in what prosecutors have said was an elaborate plot to frame a rival, Paul Kevin Curtis. Poisoned letters addressed to Obama and Wicker were intercepted before delivery, but one letter reached Holland. She was not harmed.
Aycock had already signaled that she intended to accept the original plea, and Lamar said that Aycock found the outcome to be balanced.
“She found our agreement to be a fair sentence and one that represented the severity of the crime committed,” Lamar said after the hearing.
The 42-year-old Tupelo man told Aycock on May 13 that he wanted to withdraw the plea agreement he made with federal prosecutors in January. In a half-hour speech, the former martial arts instructor told the judge that federal prosecutors lied when they said he made the poison and about finding his DNA on a dust mask. He renewed accusations that Elvis impersonator and entertainer Curtis had committed the crimes. Curtis, a Corinth resident, was initially arrested by federal prosecutors but was abruptly released after officials found no physical evidence of ricin in his home.
Although he pointed the finger at Curtis, Dutschke also argued last week that had only used castor beans to make a fertilizer that couldn’t hurt anyone, not a true form of the poison ricin.
At the end of the May 13 hearing, Aycock had told Dutschke to file a formal motion asking to withdraw his plea. A decision on that motion would have been up to the judge. But Dutschke had a change of heart. On Friday, defense attorney Ken Coghlan sent a letter to Aycock saying his client would stick with the guilty plea.
Coghlan declined to comment further.
Lamar said he didn’t know what prompted the reversal “other than he changed his mind and did not want to withdraw the plea.”
Pulling back the plea could have opened Dutschke to a possible life sentence as well as a longer sentence in a state court proceeding where he had pleaded guilty to fondling charges. Though the plea agreements were separate, Aycock said the Lee County deal was linked to the federal plea. State prosecutors have recommended that Dutschke serve his proposed 20-year sentence in the unrelated fondling case at the same time he serves any penalty on the federal charges.
The Lee County Circuit Clerk’s office said that the sentencing remains set for May 27. Paul Howell, an investigator for the Lee County district attorney, said prosecutors continue to recommend a 20-year state prison term to be served at the same time as the federal term, followed by a 25-year suspended sentence, though any sentence is up to the judge.
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