An Elvis Presley impersonator from Mississippi charged with threatening President Barack Obama and a U.S. senator by mailing them letters containing the deadly chemical ricin will remain in custody at least until April 22.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, of Corinth, faces charges of using the mail to convey threats to people including Obama, and if convicted could face a maximum of 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Curtis hasn’t entered a plea in his initial court appearances. U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander heard arguments yesterday on whether there was probable cause for him to be bound over for a grand jury. She ordered the hearing to resume on April 22 and said she would also consider then whether to release him on bail.
Envelopes addressed to Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, with a “suspicious granular substance” were intercepted April 16. The FBI and U.S. Secret Service determined that a “suspicious granular substance” inside was ricin, which has no antidote.
The letters were postmarked April 8 and both read in part: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die” and were signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” according to an affidavit by the FBI agent Brandon Grant and Victor Dickerson of the U.S. Secret Service.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement April 18 that further forensic tests were being conducted.
“The FBI is not aware of any illness as a result of exposure to these letters,” the FBI said.
Inquiries with Wicker’s staff turned up previous letters to his Washington office with the sign-off “this is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message,” according to the affidavit. Curtis also wrote a blog post in September 2010 saying he was working on a novel about black market body parts titled “Missing Pieces,” according to the agents.
A third, similar letter with a suspicious substance was sent on April 8 to a judge in Lee County, where Curtis lives, the agents said. That substance hasn’t been tested, they said.
All three letters were on yellow paper and bore Memphis, Tennessee, postmarks, the agents said. Letters sent from northern Mississippi, where Curtis lives, usually bear a Memphis postmark, according to the affidavit.
A passage from the letters also matches a statement that Curtis posted on his Facebook page: “To see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner to its continuance.”
At yesterday’s court hearing, additional evidence was introduced that Grant said appeared to link Curtis to the letters. Grant testified that “indentations not visible to the naked eye” were found on the letters as if someone had written on paper on top of them and the pressure of the writing instrument pressed through to the envelopes beneath. He said further tests showed the writing to be two return addresses, both linked to former residences of Curtis.
Grant said that while no evidence linking Curtis to ricin had been uncovered, search warrants were still being conducted yesterday on Curtis’s home and vehicle.
Curtis’s attorney, Christi McCoy of Oxford, argued that all the evidence against her client was circumstantial unless he could be linked to the ricin.
“Unless something ties him to the ricin it really doesn’t matter if he’s crazy,” McCoy said, referring to earlier testimony that Curtis has a history of mental problems.
Curtis, dressed in an orange prison scrub suit and shackled at the ankles and hands as he was led into the courtroom, turned to his daughter, 20-year-old Madison Curtis, a Mississippi College student, after the handcuffs were removed.
“I didn’t do it,” he said.
Alexander recessed the hearing after 3 1/2 hours yesterday citing “sequestration issues,” namely that U.S. marshals were incurring overtime pay as a result of the lengthy proceedings.
In 2007, Curtis was reported by his wife to the Bonneville Police Department, Grant and Dickerson said in their affidavit. They said she told them he was “extremely delusional, anti- government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones.”
The letters’ discovery following the bombings at the Boston Marathon this week evoked memories in Washington of anthrax mailings that targeted lawmakers in 2001. Shortly after that year’s Sept. 11 attacks, letters containing anthrax were sent to two senators during a series of mailings to media and government offices that claimed five lives across the U.S. No lawmakers were harmed.
The letters and the Boston bombings haven’t been linked.
Ricin is made from castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It’s harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested, the CDC said on its website.
Symptoms depend on the purity, route of exposure and the dose. Initial symptoms from inhalation occur as early as four to six hours after the exposure, and symptoms include difficulty breathing and a cough, according to the CDC.
The symptoms can progress rapidly to fluid within the lungs and eventually respiratory failure. Deaths from the poison usually happen within 36 to 72 hours. While no antidote exists, doctors can counteract the effects of the poisoning by helping victims breathe or giving them fluids.
The case is U.S. v. Curtis, 13-mj-00019, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).