A Mississippi martial arts instructor was charged on Saturday with attempting to use a biological weapon after a ricin-laced letter was sent to President Barack Obama earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Everett Dutschke, 41, was arrested at his Tupelo home shortly after midnight by FBI agents following searches of the residence and a former business as part of the ricin letter investigation.
He was later charged with “developing … and possessing” ricin and “attempting” to use it “as a weapon,” according to a joint statement by the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Mississippi and the head of the FBI’s Mississippi office. Ricin is a highly lethal poison made from castor beans. If convicted, Dutschke faces maximum possible penalties of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
His arrest came several days after U.S. prosecutors dropped charges in the case on Tuesday against another Mississippi man, Kevin Curtis, who was released from jail after a search of his home revealed no incriminating evidence….
Federal agents initially targeted Curtis, an Elvis impersonator, in their efforts to find who sent the letters laced with ricin….
Dutschke, who fronted a two-man blues band in Tupelo called RoboDrum, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate in 2007 against Stephen Holland, a Democratic state representative from the Tupelo area. Holland’s mother, Sadie, is the judge to whom one of the ricin-tainted letters was mailed this month.
Curtis’s brother and fellow Elvis impersonator, insurance agent Jack Curtis, worked for a time with Dutschke and said he believed the feud with Dutschke was related to his brother’s efforts to publicize allegations about a black market for body parts at a local Mississippi hospital. Kevin Curtis was fired as a janitor from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo after raising questions about body parts he said he observed there. The hospital strongly denied the allegations.
Dutschke faces other charges related to an April 1 indictment for fondling three children between ages 7 and 16, from 2007 to 2013, according to court records….
An FBI agent testified in court in Mississippi that the ricin found in the letters was in a crude form and looked like castor beans ground up in a blender, according to media accounts. Experts have said ricin in that form would have a low potency. Castor bean plants are grown as ornamental shrubs in the Southern United States, but there is no domestic castor oil production and it is mostly imported from India and China.