J. Everett Dutschke's journey to ricin suspect

In Tupelo, Miss., a town known for its laid-back style, J. Everett Dutschke stood out when he arrived in 2000.

He was a martial arts instructor, yet he often wore pinstriped suits and cuff links in his off hours. He used a lot of multisyllabic words, which he over-enunciated. The Southern accent of his earlier life in Texas and central Mississippi was gone. He told people he was an officer of Mensa, the organization for people with high IQs.

But over time the veneer of refinement disintegrated. He was fired by a taekwondo studio and cycled through several other jobs. He started an alternative newspaper that published vitriolic attacks on local politicians. He ran against the longtime state representative from his district and, when he lost, said the election was rigged.

Now the FBI alleges that Dutschke, 41, is the man who mailed the poisonous substance ricin last month to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and the mother of the state representative he ran against - and then tried to frame another man for it. (More ricin-laced letters surfaced in Spokane last week, but the FBI would not disclose details.) Dutschke is in federal custody and has pleaded not guilty to charges of making a biological agent and attempting to use it as a weapon. A grand jury is expected to take up his case this week.

"I'm a patriotic American. I don't have any grudges against anybody. . . . I did not send the letters," Dutschke told a swarm of television reporters last month as the FBI searched his home.

If tried and convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. That would be in addition to the 45 years he faces if found guilty of fondling three underage girls, which a grand jury charged him with last month.

He has also pleaded not guilty to those charges. His attorneys in both cases declined to comment for this story.

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Mississippi state Rep. Steve Holland, a Democrat who has held his seat for more than 25 years, saw the dark side of Dutschke up close.

"He was an angry, bitter, vindictive person," Holland said in an interview. "Veins would pop out of his head when he was giving a speech like he was going to pull out an AK-47 and shoot everybody. It was unsettling."

Dutschke, running on the Republican ticket in 2007, called Holland "The Liberal Undertaker," a reference to his family's funeral home. He referred to Holland's position on illegal immigration as "No Alien Left Behind." In an online video, he doctored photographs of Holland to make him look like Boss Hogg, the corrupt commissioner in the television show "The Dukes of Hazzard."

When Dutschke lost, he said the election was fixed, and in 2008 he ran - this time as a Democrat - to become a Lee County election commissioner. He lost again and published screeds in his newspaper about the corrupt political system.

After the loss, he dropped out of politics, quit his job at an insurance firm and started a blues band called RoboDrum.

"I'd call it 'Angry Man With a Guitar' music," said Melanie Deas, executive director of the Link Centre, a performing arts venue where Dutschke played. "He used lights, strobes and flares. People would come to concerts with glow-in-the-dark Hula Hoops."

He sang the lead vocals, played the electric guitar and wrote most of the songs. Although the lyrics were often about getting the girl, others focused on killing people and being evil.

In a song called, "Wish You Well," he wrote about killing the lover of a woman he desired and how neither heaven nor hell would accept him after his death. "I know I'm an evil man," he sings on a CD released in 2010.

In "You Can't Kill Me," he wrote about being killed by a woman, making a deal with the devil and coming back to life. "I met the devil at the crossroads, baby . . . I took his evil spirit from him, girl, and I was gonna give it to you."

In an interview with the Washington Post, Dutschke's father, Lennis, a retired machinist who lives in Texas, said the anger that so many people in Tupelo saw in his son was not always there.

He says he thinks the turning point came at age 17, when Dutschke's older brother - distraught over the breakup of his marriage - killed himself with one of Lennis Dutschke's guns.

"I would say that was probably the event that caused him to learn how to hate," said Lennis, who has lived apart from Everett since his son was 7. "I don't know why it changed him, but it changed all of us. . . . He was just a normal kid before that. I'm at a loss for understanding."

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Just before Dutschke moved to Tupelo, he visited the town in early 2000 when he was invited to serve as a guest judge at a martial arts contest. A few months later he moved to the town, which is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

He held a variety of jobs while dabbling in journalism and politics, and he left a trail of enemies along the way.

His first employer, the owner of a taekwondo studio, told the Post he fired Dutschke for having an affair with a client, whom Dutschke later married and divorced in the span of a year.

In 2005, he opened his own martial arts studio, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus, and produced his newspaper.

He regularly attacked local journalists, then challenged them to take him to court, saying in one of his newspapers, "I welcome the controversy. . . . I say, 'Bring it on!' Bring on your attorneys, I will eat them alive as I usually do. As an assistant counsel for the ACLU, I made my living smacking attorneys around." (His MySpace page, however, makes no mention of law school or employment with the ACLU. He lists only two years of college. The ACLU did not respond to a request for comment.)

"He loved picking on people, making fun of people," said Tina Powell, who sold ads at a competing alternative newspaper and was sometimes the subject of Dutschke's attacks. "I went to his studio to confront him. I told him this wasn't a way to make money in Tupelo. He said he didn't need to make money with his paper. He had plenty of money."

By 2006, Dutschke had taken a second job, selling insurance. In an odd twist, he began working with both the ex-wife and the brother of the man he is now accused of framing in the ricin case, Paul Kevin Curtis. Curtis, who had been warring with Dutschke online for years, was arrested first but was released last month after the FBI became convinced that he had been framed.

Curtis' ex-wife, Laura, said she teamed up with Dutschke on sales pitches. She set up appointments with potential customers but sent Dutschke in to close the deal.

"He was the best closer I ever worked with," she said. "The women liked him. I liked him. He did well with women. He could be charming with them. The men did not like him. He looked down on people. He would say Mississippi is filled with rednecks."

Although Dutschke was born in Kentucky and raised in College Park, Texas, and Meridian, Miss., he often told people he was from Boston and mentioned his Mensa association. (American Mensa said Dutschke was once a member, but isn't now and was never an officer.)

•••

In the summer of 2012, as Dutschke prepared to enter his band RoboDrum in the annual Bud Lite Battle of the Bands contest, he started coming to the attention of law enforcement.

In June, he was charged with indecent exposure by the city attorney's office after several neighborhood children came forward.

"He would get the attention of the girls with a green laser. He would hit the laser and click it around until they started to look into his house. Then he would expose himself," said Dennis Carlock, whose 13-year-old granddaughter was one of the victims and testified about the incidents.

While the city attorney's office gathered testimony and set a preliminary hearing on the indecent exposure case, Dutschke purchased his first of two online orders of castor bean seeds, according to an FBI affidavit. Ricin is a powdery, toxic residue that is left behind after castor beans are crushed.

Two months later, Dutschke was arrested and charged in the child molestation case. Local newspapers said that some of the alleged victims were students at his martial arts studio. When he appeared in court, prosecutors said, he strutted through the courtroom in jailhouse stripes and handcuffs, smirking as he signed court documents - then added a smiley face.

"What comes across is this air of superiority," said Lee County Prosecuting Attorney James D. Moore. "Most people in that situation are scared to death and intimidated. He was very cocky about it."

The next month, Dutschke was convicted on the indecent exposure charges, which he is appealing. The publicity forced him to close his studio. The revelations also sparked a final feud between Paul Kevin Curtis and Dutschke.

On Facebook, Curtis posted a link to the child molestation story, asking people for any information they might have on the case. He also found a video that Dutschke had posted on YouTube and wrote, "See you in court" in the comments field.

"I did it because I knew he'd be watching what I put on my Facebook page," Curtis said. "I knew it would upset him. Plus, I wanted people to know about this guy."

On April 1, a grand jury issued three indictments against Dutschke, accusing him of "fondling" three females under the age of 17.

On April 8, three ricin-laced letters were mailed from Memphis to Obama, Wicker and Holland's mother, an 80-year-old judge.

"With all that was happening, it makes you wonder if a person feels like there is nothing left to lose," said Moore, the county prosecutor. "You are already in enough trouble. Would it just trigger you to do something on a larger scale?"

J. Everett Dutschke's journey to ricin suspect 05/21/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 3:03pm]

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