A Mississippi man charged with sending letters to President Barack Obama and a U.S. senator laced with ricin, a deadly poison, has been released from jail, one of his lawyers said.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was in custody since last week, accused of mailing envelopes to Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, that were intercepted April 16 and found to contain “a suspicious granular substance” that tested positive for ricin.
“He was released,” Philip Halbert Neilson, a lawyer for Curtis, said by phone today. Neilson said the charges against Curtis are still pending. Asked if there any conditions on Curtis’s release, the lawyer said the matter is “under seal.”
Another lawyer for Curtis argued at a hearing in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, that the government lacked evidence linking her client to ricin. An FBI agent testified yesterday 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.
Defense attorney Christi McCoy raised the possibility in court yesterday that Curtis was being framed for the mailings by a Tupelo man recently arrested on child molestation charges with whom Curtis had a long-running e-mail feud.
A detention and preliminary hearing for Curtis, scheduled to resume this morning, was canceled after lawyers for the defense and prosecution met privately with the judge, McCoy told reporters at the courthouse. She said a news conference was scheduled for later in the day.
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.”
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 website.
Curtis was charged with using the mail to convey threats to people including Obama. Prosecutors said he would face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
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. against him. 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. 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.
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).