Ricin letters: Charges dropped and case dismissed against man accused of sending poisonous letters

OXFORD, MS - A court filing says charges have been dropped against a Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and others.

The one-sentence document was filed Tuesday, hours after Paul Kevin Curtis was released from custody. The document says the ongoing investigation has revealed new but unspecified information.

An FBI agent had testified in court that no evidence of ricin was found at Curtis's home.

Meanwhile, authorities searched Tuesday at the home of another Mississippi man in connection with the case.

Everett Dutschke (DUHST'-kee) said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the FBI was at his Tupelo home Tuesday for a search related to the mailing of poisoned letters to Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and a state judge. Dutschke said his house was also searched last week.

In Washington, a suspicious letter containing what authorities say may be ricin was found Tuesday in a mail-sorting facility for the Defense Intelligence Agency. It wasn't clear if it was connected to the other letters.

Dutschke has maintained his innocence and says he doesn't know anything about the ingredients for ricin. He said agents asked him about suspect Paul Kevin Curtis, whether Dutschke would take a lie detector test and if he had ever bought castor beans, which can be used to make the potent poison.

"I'm a patriotic American. I don't have any grudges against anybody. I did not send the letters," said Dutschke, who hasn't been arrested or charged.

Outside his house, numerous law enforcement officers from several agencies were seen along with a mobile crime lab.

Earlier Tuesday, Curtis was released from custody without an immediate explanation from authorities. Later, his attorney Hal Neilson said that Curtis was released on bond and that charges haven't yet been dropped against him. He said conditions of the bond are sealed by the court. Defense attorneys say a news conference is scheduled for later in the afternoon.

An FBI agent had testified in court this week that a search of Curtis' home turned up no ricin or evidence it was being made there. The third day of a preliminary and detention hearing was cancelled on Tuesday without officials explaining the change.

Jeff Woodfin, chief deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service in Oxford, Miss., said he doesn't know if there were any conditions on Curtis's release.

Through his lawyers, Curtis has denied involvement in the letters.

"The searches are concluded, not one single shred of evidence was found to indicate Kevin could have done this," Defense lawyer Christi McCoy told reporters after a hearing Monday.

At that hearing, FBI Agent Brandon Grant testified that searches last week of Curtis' vehicle and house in Corinth, Miss., found no ricin, ingredients for the poison, or devices used to make it. A search of Curtis' computers found no evidence he researched making ricin. Authorities produced no other physical evidence at the hearings tying Curtis to the letters.

Curtis was arrested last Wednesday at his house in Corinth, Miss., and charged with sending the ricin-laced letters, the first of which was found April 15.

Grant testified Friday that authorities tried to track down the sender of the letters by using a list of Wicker's constituents with the initials KC, the same initials in the letters. Grant said the list was whittled from thousands to about 100 when investigators isolated the ones who lived in an area that would have a Memphis, Tenn., postmark, which includes many places in north Mississippi. He said Wicker's staff recognized Curtis as someone who had written the senator before.

All the envelopes and stamps were self-adhesive, Grant said Monday, meaning they won't yield DNA evidence. He said thus far the envelopes and letters haven't yielded any fingerprints.

McCoy said in court that someone may have framed Curtis. She questioned why Curtis would have signed the letters "I am KC and I approve this message," a phrase he had used on his Facebook page.

On Tuesday, people in hazmat suits were seen going in and out of Dutschke's house on a quiet block in Tupelo. Investigators from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Capitol Police were seen outside the house. Dutschke said he counted at least 30 law enforcement agents.

"They really asked me about Kevin for most of the day and then they asked me if I would take a lie detector test. I said my attorney would be very angry. I did sign a consent form for the search, which is probably why they have not shown me any kind of warrant," he said.

Dutschke said his attorney wasn't with him and he didn't know whether he was going to be arrested.

Dutschke said that he knows Curtis but that the two had a falling out. Dutschke said the last contact they had was in 2010 when Dutschke threatened to sue Curtis for saying he was a member of Mensa, a membership group for people with high IQs.
 

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