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Friday, April 26, 2013

Was Paul Kevin Curtis Framed in the Ricin Poison Case?

     Ricin is a naturally occurring protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal. Delivered through the air, injected, or swallowed, ricin is 6,000 times more toxic than cyanide. There is no antidote for this poison.

     In 1978, an assassin used ricin to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer, dissident and defector. The killer used the tip of an umbrella to deliver the ricin as Markov waited for a bus in London. The victim died four days after being pricked by the deadly umbrella.

     Ricin was used as a warfare agent in Iraq during the 1980s. In 2004, someone sent a ricin-laced letter to U. S. Senator Bill Frists. The letter was intercepted at a mail sorting facility outside of Washington, D. C. The sender has never been identified.

     On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings, postal workers at a mail-handling facility outside of Washington discovered a suspicious letter addressed to U. S. Senator Roger Wicker. The letter to the senator from Mississippi turned out to be laced with ricin. Dated April 8, 2013 and postmarked Memphis, Tennessee, the envelope did not include a return address.

     A second ricin letter, one addressed to President Obama, was also intercepted at an off-site D. C. area mail-handling center. Both letters were signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message."

     FBI agents, on April 17, 2013, arrested a 45-year-old man from Corinth, Mississippi on federal charges related to the two ricin mailings. The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, had used the phrase "I am K. C. and I approve of this message" on his Facebook page. Curtis has a history of mental illness and a handful of misdemeanor arrests. When he wasn't posting online political rants, Curtis worked as an impersonator of celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bon Jovi, and Prince. (Prince?)

     On April 23, 2013, after searches of the suspect's home, vehicle, and computer failed to provide incriminating evidence, the charges against Curtis were dropped. A federal judge ordered his release from jail. Following his release from custody, the father of four told reporters that he had been framed by J. Everett Dutschke, a long-time personal enemy from Tupelo, Mississippi.

     According to media reports, Mr. Dutschke is awaiting trial on a child molestation charge. In 2007 he ran for a seat in the Mississippi state legislature. In that race he lost to the incumbent. Although FBI agents have searched Dutschke's house, no criminal charges have been filed against him.

     A third ricin letter, one that links Paul Kevin Curtis and Everett Dutschke to the case, actually reached its intended target. The receiver of this piece of mailed poison was an 80-year-old Mississippi judge. In 2004, Judge Sadie Holland presided over an assault case that sent Curtis to jail for six months. Judge Holland is linked to Mr. Dutschke through a long-running political feud between their families.

     After opening the threatening letter, Judge Holland called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The judge was not poisoned by the letter. (I presume it was also signed, "I am K. C. and I approve of this message.")

     While frame-up scenarios are common in crime fiction, they are rare events in real life. If Mr. Curtis and the FBI were victims of a frame-up, this fact alone will make this an unusual case.

UPDATE

     FBI agents, on April 27, 2013, arrested Everett Dutschke on unspecified federal charges. 

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