The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 29, 2013

Lawyer: Former ricin suspect’s home is unlivable

By HOLBROOK MOHR - Associated Press
Star Beacon

OXFORD, Miss —  A Mississippi man’s house is uninhabitable after investigators searched it but failed to find evidence of the deadly poison ricin, a lawyer said Monday, arguing that the government should repair the home.

Kevin Curtis was once charged in the mailing of poisoned letters to President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and a Mississippi judge, but the charges were later dropped. The investigation shifted last week to another man who had a falling out with Curtis, and that suspect appeared in court Monday on a charge of making ricin.

Curtis’ lawyer, Christi McCoy, has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams demanding that Curtis be provided temporary housing and the government repair his Corinth, Miss., home and possessions. She also wants the government to pay his legal bills.

“To be specific, Mr. Curtis’ home is uninhabitable. I have seen a lot of post search residences but this one is quite disturbing. The agents removed art from the walls, broke the frames and tore the artwork. Mr. Curtis offered his keys but agents chose to break the lock. Mr. Curtis’ garbage was scheduled to be picked up Thursday, the day after he was snatched from his life. A week later, the garbage remains in his home, along with millions of insects it attracted,” the letter says.

Though attorneys for Curtis say their client was framed, McCoy believes whoever sent the letters had a primary goal of targeting the public officials. Curtis has said that he feuded with the man now charged in the case, James Everett Dutschke.

“I think Kevin was just an afterthought or a scapegoat,” McCoy said.

Some of the language in the letters was similar to posts on Curtis’ Facebook page and they were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.” Curtis often used a similar online signoff.

Had damaging Curtis been the point of the scheme, McCoy said she believes that whoever set up her client could have done a better job of implicating him, such as planting evidence at his home.

McCoy said in an interview Monday that she still believes the FBI acted on the best information available at the time, but it’s time to make her client whole. The letter said Curtis’ life was “ruined.”

Curtis, a 45-year-old Elvis impersonator, was arrested on April 17. The charges were dropped six days later and Curtis was released from jail.

A message left seeking comment about McCoy’s letter at the federal prosecutor’s office in Oxford wasn’t immediately returned.

After Curtis was released, the focus turned to Dutschke. In court Monday, a judge ordered that Dutschke be held without bond until a preliminary and detention hearing on Thursday. More details are likely to emerge at that hearing, when prosecutors have to show they have enough evidence to hold him.

Dutschke made a brief appearance wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands shackled. The 41-year-old suspect said little during his hearing other than answering affirmatively to the judge’s questions about whether he understood the charges against him.

Dutschke (pronounced DUHS’-kee) has denied involvement in the mailing of the letters, saying he’s a patriot with no grudges against anyone. He has previously run for political office and was known to frequent political rallies in northern Mississippi.

An attorney from the public defender’s office appointed to represent Dutschke declined to comment after Monday’s hearing. Another attorney of Dutschke’s, Lori Nail Basham, said she will continue to represent him in other matters but not the federal case.

Dutschke’s house, business and vehicles in Tupelo, Miss., were searched last week, often by crews in hazardous materials suits, and he had been under surveillance.

He faces up to life in prison if convicted. A news release from federal authorities said Dutschke was charged with “knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin.”

He already had legal problems. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16, at least one of whom was a student at his martial arts studio. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure. He told The Associated Press last week that his lawyer told him not to comment on those cases.

Earlier in the week, as investigators searched his primary residence in Tupelo, Dutschke told the AP, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“I’m a patriotic American. I don’t have any grudges against anybody. ... I did not send the letters,” Dutschke said.

Dutschke and Curtis were acquainted. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on a conspiracy that Curtis says he uncovered about the black-market sale of body parts. But he said they later had a feud.

Curtis’s attorney Hal Neilson said the legal team gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Curtis and Dutschke’s came up.

The Mississippi judge who received one of the letters, Sadie Holland, is part of a family that has had political skirmishes with Dutschke. Her son, Steve Holland, a Democratic state representative, said his mother encountered Dutschke at a rally in the town of Verona in 2007, when Dutschke ran as a Republican against Steve Holland.

Holland said his mother confronted Dutschke after he made a derogatory speech about the Holland family. She demanded that he apologize, which Holland says he did.

Dutschke’s MySpace page has several pictures with him and Wicker, though he’s never worked for Wicker’s campaign. Republicans in north Mississippi say Dutschke used to frequently show up at GOP events and mingle with people, usually finding a way to get a snapshot of himself with the headliner.

“He would always hand his camera to somebody to get his picture made,” longtime Republican Mike Armour of Tupelo said by phone Monday.

A woman described by a neighbor as Dutschke’s wife arrived at their home Monday afternoon but covered her face and did not respond to a reporter as she walked from a green minivan into the house.

Rory Key lives just down the street from Dutschke’s house. He said Dutschke came to his house while the FBI was searchingthe suspect’s home asking for a drink and a snack.

He said the suspect was more upset than nervous. Key said he doesn’t believe Dutscke committed the crime. He also said he didn’t know him that well because Dustchke kept to himself.

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Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson contributed to this report.

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Follow Mohr at http://twitter.com/holbrookmohr.