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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Ricin suspect remanded in custody

Ricin letter suspect Everett Dutschke outside his home (AP)
Ricin letter suspect Everett Dutschke outside his home (AP)

A man charged with making poison sent in letters to president Barack Obama, a senator and a judge has appeared briefly in court in the US.

James Everett Dutschke was taken to federal court wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands shackled. The 41-year-old suspect said little during the hearing other than to answer the judge's questions about whether he understood the charges against him. He said he did.

Dutschke's arrest early on Saturday on a charge of making and possessing ricin capped a week in which investigators initially zeroed in on a rival of Dutschke's, then decided they had the wrong man. Dutschke has denied involvement in the mailing of the letters, saying he is a patriot with no grudges against anyone.

The judge ordered Dutschke to remain jailed until a preliminary and detention hearing scheduled for Thursday. More details are likely to emerge at that hearing, when prosecutors have to show they have enough evidence to hold him.

Dutschke's house, business and vehicles in Tupelo, Mississippi, were searched last week, often by teams in hazardous materials suits, and he had been under surveillance.

He faces up to life in prison if convicted. Dutschke was charged with "knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin."

He already had legal problems. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure.

The letters, which tests showed were tainted with ricin, were sent April 8 to Obama, senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland.

The first suspect accused by the FBI was Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, an Elvis impersonator. He was arrested on April 17 at his Mississippi, home, but the charges were dropped six days later and Curtis, who says he was framed, was released from jail.

The focus then turned to Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect and the judge. Dutschke and Curtis were knew each other. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on a conspiracy that Curtis insists he has uncovered to sell body parts on a black market. But he said they later had a feud.

Press Association

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