June 5 (Bloomberg) -- An ex-martial arts instructor in Mississippi pleaded not guilty to charges he sent letters containing the poison ricin to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a state judge.
James Everett Dutschke, 41, was indicted May 31 for allegedly developing, producing and possessing a biological agent as a weapon; threatening the president and two others by mail; and covering up his scheme to make it appear that someone else had sent the threatening letters. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted.
Dutschke waived his right to a hearing in Oxford, Mississippi, federal court, according to a filing made public today. A trial date was set for July 29 in Aberdeen, Mississippi, according to a court filing today.
A resident of Tupelo, he was arrested April 27 four days after charges were dropped against a Corinth, Mississippi man whose initials were on the letters. That man’s lawyer, Christi McCoy, said in an April 22 preliminary hearing that her client may have been framed by Dutschke.
Dutschke’s actions “potentially put at risk the lives of the President of the United States, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi judge and those handling the U.S. mail,” the grand jury said in the indictment.
In May, a Spokane, Washington, man was arrested in connection with a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe that confirmed ricin was found in letters postmarked from that city to a federal judge there, the local post office, a nearby U.S. Air Force base and Obama.
The FBI also is investigating anonymous letters threatening New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that tested positive for ricin and were sent from Shreveport, Louisiana, and similar correspondence to Obama and Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington. Bloomberg, co-chairman of the coalition, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.
Ricin is made from castor beans and has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It’s harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested.
The FBI said its agents saw Dutschke on April 22 trying to dispose of items he’s suspected of using to make ricin. A mobile surveillance team watched him as he visited his former Taekwondo business in Tupelo, exited with several items and then drove a short distance before dumping them in a public trash bin, according to an FBI affidavit.
Agents recovered a coffee-grinder box, latex gloves and an empty bucket, as well as a dust mask that tested positive for ricin, according to the court filing. Preliminary tests also confirmed the presence of ricin inside the studio, the FBI said.
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. Dutschke, 13-cr-00081, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).
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