A bizarre episode that heightened fears after last year's Boston Marathon bombings came to an end on Friday, Jan. 17th, when a former Mississippi martial arts instructor pleaded guilty to mailing letters laced with deadly ricin to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and a state judge.
James Everett Dutschke, 41, entered his plea in federal court in Oxford, Miss., agreeing to accept a 25-year prison sentence.
Dutschke's letters to Obama and Wicker, a Republican, were intercepted during mail screenings that have been conducted away from the White House and U.S. Capitol since a rash of anthrax mailings killed five people, sickened 17 others and shuttered Congress in 2001. A third Dutschke letter did reach its destination, Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland, but she was not injured.
Dutschke's scheme apparently stemmed from an attempt to frame an area Elvis impersonator, with whom he'd had a long-running feud.
The threatening letters containing ricin used phrases easily traced to Facebook postings railing at the government by Paul Kevin Curtis, who lives outside Tupelo, Miss., leading to Curtis' prompt arrest. Federal agents in moon suits then conducted a highly publicized search of Curtis' home.
After finding no ricin and hearing protestations from Curtis that he was being framed, investigators turned their focus on Dutschke. Again in moon suits, federal agents searched Dutschke's former business, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus, where they found trace levels of ricin.
The FBI then sealed off the business to protect the public. Extensive forensic tests on the ricin concluded that it had not been processed into its most deadly form, federal law enforcement sources said at the time.
Court documents said that Dutschke used the internet to research how to make and deploy ricin, a biological agent naturally found in castor beans. Dutschke bought castor beans or seeds from vendors via eBay and PayPal, federal prosecutors said.
He also bought latex gloves, grinders and masks from area vendors for development of the toxin, they said.
While Dutschke was jailed awaiting trial, a grand jury issued a new indictment accusing him of trying to recruit someone to produce more ricin and send it to Wicker in yet another attempt to frame Curtis.
Curtis has filed a defamation suit against Dutschke.
Dutschke's mailings occurred after the marathon bombings and put much of the East Coast on edge in an eery redux of the anthrax mailings, which occurred in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The ricin investigation was led by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Jackson, Miss., and Memphis, along with the Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Capitol Police. But it was aided by the Mississippi National Guard, the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security, the Lee County Sheriff's Office, Tupelo police and other local agencies.