OXFORD, Miss. — A Mississippi man charged with sending ricin-laced letters to the president and other officials was described Thursday as a good father, a quiet neighbor and an entertainer who impersonated Elvis at parties. But accounts also show a man who spiraled into emotional turmoil trying to get attention for his claims of uncovering a conspiracy to sell body parts on the black market.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, detailed in numerous Web posts in recent years what he said "changed my life forever": the discovery of body parts and organs wrapped in plastic in a small refrigerator at a hospital where he worked as a janitor more than a decade ago.
He tried to talk to officials and get the word out online, but he thought he was being railroaded by the government. Officials say the efforts culminated in letters sent to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a judge in Mississippi. "Maybe I have your attention now even if that means someone must die," the letters read, according to an FBI affidavit.
"He is bipolar, and the only thing I can say is he wasn't on his medicine," his ex-wife, Laura Curtis, told the Associated Press.
The couple were married 10 years and have four children.
Jim Waide, an attorney for the Curtis family, said Paul Kevin Curtis was prescribed medication three years ago. "When he is on his medication, he is terrific, he's nice, he's functional," Waide said. "When he's off his medication, that's when there's a problem."
Waide represented Curtis in an employment discrimination lawsuit he filed in August 2000 against North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where he worked from 1998 until he was fired in 2000. Waide said he withdrew from the case because Curtis didn't trust him.
"He thought I was conspiring against him," Waide said. "He thinks everybody is out to get him." The suit was dismissed.
Curtis made a brief court appearance Thursday, wearing shackles and a Johnny Cash T-shirt. Attorney Christi R. McCoy said he "maintains 100 percent" that he is innocent. He did not enter pleas to the two federal charges against him. He is due back in court this afternoon.
In 2007, Curtis' ex-wife called police in Booneville, Miss., to report that her husband was extremely delusional, anti-government and felt the government was spying on him with drones.
But Laura Curtis said Thursday she doesn't believe the allegations about her ex-husband. "He just likes to speak out," she said. "What they say he did is so unlike him, it's unreal. Until I hear him say he did it, I would not, I would not, I could not believe it."
Thursday evening, the FBI said lab tests have confirmed the presence of ricin in the letters mailed to Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. The letter sent to the judge was being tested.
At least a dozen armed officers wearing gas masks and hazardous-material suits entered Curtis' home Thursday evening in Corinth, Miss. There was no immediate word on what they found inside.