April 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. dropped criminal charges against an Elvis impersonator in Mississippi accused of sending a letter tainted with ricin, a deadly poison, to President Barack Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was released from custody yesterday and all charges against were dismissed, according to an order signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander in Oxford, Mississippi.
“It just wasn’t him,” Christi McCoy, a lawyer for Curtis, said at a press conference outside the courthouse. “They were quick and faithful in discharging him.”
McCoy raised the possibility in court on April 22 that Curtis was being framed for the mailings by a man from Tupelo, Mississippi, who had been arrested on child molestation charges and who had engaged in a long-running e-mail feud with Curtis. McCoy said at yesterday’s press conference that she was told that authorities are investigating the Tupelo man as a possible suspect.
Curtis was arrested last week after envelopes allegedly sent to Obama and Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, were intercepted April 16 and found to contain “a suspicious granular substance” that tested positive for ricin.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar in Oxford said in an e-mail that he couldn’t comment on the dropped charges and referred an inquiry to a public information officer.
An FBI agent testified at the April 22 preliminary hearing that searches failed to turn up any trace of ricin at Curtis’s home, as well his vehicle and the homes of his ex-wife and parents. A preliminary analysis of his personal computer also found nothing related to ricin, agent Brandon Grant said.
The letters to Obama and Wicker 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 the criminal complaint.
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, according to the CDC
Curtis was charged with using the mail to convey threats to people including Obama. Prosecutors had said he would face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
“I don’t even eat rice,” Curtis said at yesterday’s press conference. “I have contempt for rice, anything that sounds like rice, even mice.”
Dressed in his brother’s suit and wearing shoes he said didn’t fit very well, Curtis said he loves his country and would never do anything to threaten the president.
“I hope my incarceration days are over, I’m not a criminal,” Curtis told reporters. “I don’t want to miss anything else with my children. I don’t want to miss a play, a band rehearsal.”
McCoy said the idea that her client was framed is “very diabolical, very frightening.”
“I believe they found a link that will exonerate Kevin” and show the true perpetrator, McCoy said of the dismissal order, which says “the ongoing investigation has revealed new information.”
Curtis said he intends to return to performing, aiding his favorite charity –- the Save A Life Foundation –- and finding a publisher for his book, “Missing Pieces,” a novel that he said exposes a black-market in human body parts.
He said he’s probably finished with his Internet presence.
“I’m going to sell all my computers,” he said. “I’m very, very nervous about Internet activity.”
McCoy suggested in Curtis’s court hearings that his very public activism on the Internet may have led someone to appropriate his writings into the ricin scheme.
In 2007, Curtis was reported by his wife to the Bonneville Police Department, Grant and Victor Dickerson of the U.S. Secret Service said in an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint. They said she told them he was “extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones.”
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.
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.
All three letters were on yellow paper and bore Memphis, Tennessee, postmarks, the agents said. Letters sent from northern Mississippi, usually bear a Memphis postmark, according to the affidavit.
Ricin poisoning 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 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).
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