The Washington Post has a long article detailing how the FBI held onto their original suspect in the case of letters laced with ricin sent to various political figures long after they knew that he was innocent and had obtained evidence pointing to James Everett Dutschke, who now has been jailed for the crime. The article did a very good job of drawing the parallel of the FBI’s arrest and mistreatment of Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis in this case with the Amerithrax investigation that falsely targeted Steven Hatfill after the anthrax attacks of 2001:
After keeping Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis in jail for a week, interrogating him while he was chained to a chair and turning his house upside down, federal authorities had no confession or physical evidence tying him to the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and other public officials.
“They wanted to keep Mr. Curtis in custody while they built a case,” said Hal Neilson, a former FBI agent who is Curtis’s attorney. “They knew early on he wasn’t the right guy, but they fought to hold on to him anyway.”
Criminal justice experts say the arrest of Curtis without any physical evidence to tie him to the crime harks back to the investigation of bioweapons expert Steven J. Hatfill, who was falsely accused of the 2001 anthrax-letter attacks that killed five people. Like Curtis, Hatfill had an unpublished novel that seemed to tie him to the crime.
With Curtis, however, experts said the FBI’s leap was larger.
“Hatfill had technical qualifications and a background that also led the FBI to zero in on him, but this guy is an Elvis impersonator with an apparent history of mental instability and a Facebook page with some distinctive and curious language on it,” said Amy E. Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies biological weapons.
The circumstantial case against Dutschke appears quite strong on its own, given the ongoing feud he was known to have with Curtis. One bit that somewhat supports Dutshcke possibly being capable of acting on his own to produce the ricin found in the letters comes from the widespread knowledge that Dutschke is quite intelligent, although his membership in Mensa was used by Curtis as part of the ongoing feud.
But what is the nature of the evidence that is known at the current time linking Dutschke to the crime? Unlike the Georgia wanna-be ricin terrorists, where the FBI only found the criminals to be in possession of intact castor beans and an unworkable plan, the ricin in this case was actually processed somewhat. From the criminal complaint (pdf): Continue reading