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Agents arrest new suspect in ricin case

James Everett Dutschke, who was arrested Saturday, stood near his home in Tupelo, Miss., on Tuesday before an FBI search.
James Everett Dutschke, who was arrested Saturday, stood near his home in Tupelo, Miss., on Tuesday before an FBI search.
Published Apr. 28, 2013

A former taekwondo instructor was taken into custody early Saturday by federal authorities in Mississippi, accused of mailing letters containing the poison ricin to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a local judge.

The arrest of James Everett Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo, Miss., is the second in two weeks in connection with the case. An earlier suspect, an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis, also of Tupelo, was released after no evidence was found linking him to the letters; Curtis' lawyer had said during a hearing in federal court that Dutschke (pronounced DUHS'-kee) appeared to have framed Curtis.

Deborah Madden, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Jackson, said Dutschke was arrested at his home shortly before 1 a.m. A law enforcement official in Tupelo said his arrest was uneventful.

Dutschke's attorney, Lori Nail Basham, told the Associated Press that she had no comment. Earlier in the week she said that Dutschke was cooperating fully with investigators and Dutschke had insisted he had nothing to do with the letters.

Dutschke has been charged with "developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent" for use as a weapon. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

The arrest is the latest chapter in a bizarre case that began during the tense week of the Boston Marathon bombing. The authorities announced that letters addressed to Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., had been found to contain a "suspicious granular substance," which was later determined to be ricin, a deadly poison. A similar letter with the substance was also sent to Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County Justice Court.

The letters spoke of "Missing Pieces," and were signed "I am KC and I approve this message," both standard parts of email messages sent to numerous public officials by Curtis, who had been on a one-man campaign for more than a decade to expose what he said was an illicit organ harvesting scheme at a Tupelo hospital.

Curtis was arrested on April 17. While he was in custody, federal agents searched his home as well as the home of a former wife, but found no evidence tying him to the letters.

Curtis' brother Jack said neither he nor other relatives immediately dismissed the charges as false, given Kevin Curtis' history of mental illness.

Jack Curtis said he later told authorities to look at Dutschke, who had long had an antagonistic relationship with Curtis.

In a hearing in federal court last Monday, Curtis' lawyer mentioned Dutschke by name. Dutschke and Curtis had feuded, mostly online, on a variety of topics including their music careers, Curtis' admittedly false claim of being a member of Mensa, and Dutschke's unwillingness to publish the organ-harvesting accusations in a local newsletter.

Dutschke, a bright but often abrasive man who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature, was arrested this year on charges of molesting three underage girls, one as young as 7. He pleaded not guilty this month.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, federal agents searched Dutschke's home and his former taekwondo school, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus.