WASHINGTON — A former north Mississippi martial arts instructor was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison for mailing letters laced with deadly ricin last year to President Barack Obama, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker and a Mississippi state court judge.
A federal grand jury indicted James Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo, on six felony counts last year. Among the charges was an allegation that he tried to frame and retaliate against Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator with whom he’d feuded, by enclosing ricin in threatening letters that mimicked material Curtis had posted on the internet.
The letters concluded: “I am KC and I approve this message,” just as Curtis’ angry postings did.
Ricin, which can be produced from naturally growing castor beans, is highly toxic and can be lethal within a couple of days of ingestion if not treated.
Within a day of the discovery of the ricin letters at mail-screening centers in Washington, federal authorities arrested Curtis. Agents wearing protective suits searched his home and prosecutors lodged charges against Curtis. Several days later, after listening to Curtis’ adamant denials and evaluating additional evidence, they released him and conducted a similar search of Dutschke’s martial arts facility, leading to his arrest.
Dutschke pleaded guilty on Jan. 17 to one count of developing and possessing the poisonous biological agent ricin and three counts of mailing threatening letters containing the substance to Obama, Wicker and Sadie Holland, a Mississippi Justice Court judge.
However, at a hearing last week, Dutschke told Judge Sharion Aycock of the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, Miss., that he intended to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
The Misssissippi Daily Journal reported that Dutschke attempted to recant his plea and began to rant to the judge about Curtis, comparing him to a Barney the Dinosaur impersonator and once again asserting that he was the actual ricin mailer.
Dutschke claimed that he was the victim of a government conspiracy in which prosecutors and FBI agents had committed perjury in stating that his DNA was found on a dust mask that had been thrown into a coffee grinder box, the Daily Journal reported.
However, after the judge advised Dutschke that he must file a formal motion to withdraw his plea, he apparently had second thoughts.
As part of his sentence, Aycock also ordered him to five years of federal supervision after he is released from prison.
Mailing of the letters in April 2013, just a couple of days after the Boston Marathon bombings, spawned heightened terrorism fears and evoked memories of the period after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when letters filled with deadly anthrax were sent to East Coast media outlets and two U.S. senators. It was nine years after that attack, which killed five people and sickened 17 others, before the Justice Department formally concluded that it was the work of a government biological weapons researcher who had died of a self-inflicted drug overdose in 2008.