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Man charged in ricin letters case

A man suspected of sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama, a senator and a judge, is facing charges that could send him to prison for life if he is convicted.

James Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo, Mississippi, is charged with developing, producing and stockpiling the poison ricin, threatening the US president and others and attempting to impede the investigation.

The indictment also accuses Dutschke of posting the letter in part to retaliate against a rival, who briefly became a suspect in the investigation. The five-count indictment was dated May 31. He is due to appear in US District Court in Oxford, Mississippi, on Thursday. George Lucas, Dutschke's lawyer, said his client would plead not guilty to each of the five charges.

Dutschke, who was arrested on April 27 at his home, is suspected of sending ricin-laced letters on April 8 to Mr Obama, US senator Roger Wicker and Judge Sadie Holland. Dutschke has denied any involvement in the letters.

He is the second person to face charges in the case. The first, entertainer and Elvis impersonator Paul Curtis, 45, was arrested on April 17, but charges were dropped six days later when the investigation shifted to Dutschke. After his arrest, Mr 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 Mr Curtis' brother. Mr Curtis said they had feuded over the years.

The letters contained language that Mr 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 The letters also contained the phrase "Missing Pieces", the same title as an unpublished book Mr Curtis wrote about his belief that there is a black market for body parts in the United States.

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

Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor, has unsuccessfully run for public offices, such as in 2007 when he challenged Democratic state congressman Steve Holland, the son of the Mississippi judge who received one of the letters. That letter was the only one to make it to its intended recipient. The others were intercepted at mail sorting centres.

Authorities said that a dust mask Dutschke removed from his former martial arts studio and dumped in a nearby rubbish bin tested positive for ricin and the DNA of two people, including Dutschke. Authorities have not said who else's DNA was on the mask, but an FBI agent said 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. The FBI has not revealed details about how lethal the ricin was. A US Senate official has said the ricin was not weaponised - meaning it was not in a form that could easily enter the body. If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. No antidote exists.


From Belfast Telegraph