White Georgetown Student Sentenced to One Year, Tutoring Underprivileged Kids for Ricin Offense

Tell me what kind of charge (much less sentence) you think this kid would get if he were a Muslim immigrant.

Daniel Milzman, 20, was sentenced today to one year and one day in prison on a federal offense stemming from the discovery of a plastic bag of lethal ricin in a dormitory room where he was staying while he was a student at Georgetown University.

The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Andrew G. McCabe, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Milzman, of Bethesda, Md., pled guilty in September 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of unregistered possession of a biological agent or toxin. He was sentenced by the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson. The plea agreement, which was contingent upon the Court’s approval, called for a prison sentence falling somewhere within the range of a year and a day to two years of incarceration.

Following the prison term, Milzman will be placed on three years of supervised release. Judge Jackson ordered that Milzman complete 400 hours of community service during that time, to be focused on tutoring underprivileged students in math and physics. She also required him to participate in a mental health program.

This is the kind of argument you get to present if your parents are local doctors who’ve gotten you good lawyers and a bed in an inpatient program at your mother’s hospital.

Milzman is nineteen years old and has had no prior involvement with the criminal justice system.  He was born in Virginia and raised in Maryland, having graduated from Walt Whitman High  School. At the time of the alleged offense, he was enrolled at Georgetown University along with his two older brothers. His parents, both doctors, reside in Bethesda and work at hospitals in the District of Columbia.

Based on representations Mr. Milzman made to agents at the time he was confronted in his dorm room, he was transferred to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (“PIW”), where he remained voluntarily until agents unexpectedly apprehended him. Prior to his apprehension, doctors at PIW believed Mr. Milzman had progressed to a point where he could return home but maintain outpatient mental health counseling. Nevertheless, Mr. Milzman and his family were exploring opportunities for continued inpatient treatment at local facilities. Arrangements were being made for Mr. Milzman to move directly from PIW to an inpatient program at Sibley Hospital.2

As a result of his arrest, however, Mr. Milzman has been held for five (5) days in the  Medical Unit at the D.C. Jail.3 Rather than receiving appropriate and beneficial mental health  treatment and counseling, this nineteen-year-old student has been held in solitary confinement  and has had no contact with his family. For the foregoing reasons, we ask the Court to affirm  Mr. Milzman’s release pending trial.

And if you’re wondering where he was “radicalized,” it was by watching Breaking Bad.

Between February 13, 2014, and February 19, 2014, the Defendant performed a number of Internet searches on his personal computer, some of which were focused on the following key words and phrases: (1) “O-Toluc acid,” (sic.) (2)”Phenylacetic acid,” (3) “anarchist cookbook,” (4) “Recipes for Disaster,” (5) “Ricin,” (6) “Ricin#Overdose,” (7) “2003 Ricin letters,” (8) “Lily of the Valley#Toxicity,” (9) “2013 Ricin letters,” (10) “incidents involving ricin,” (11) “incidents involving ricin#April 2013. 2C Washington, DC,” (12) “how to throw a tail,” and (13) “Lose someone when being followed.” Also, during the period January 1, 2014, through March 18, 2014, Milzman used a Netflix account to watch various episodes of the television show, “Breaking Bad.” In approximately thirteen of the “Breaking Bad” episodes the Defendant watched during that time period, the plot contained references to ricin being used to injure or kill someone.

Now, to be very clear, this kid has a history of major depression. That was clearly not invented to dodge the charges. He, like many of the young Muslims who get caught in stings with “WMDs,” needs treatment for mental illness, not a long sentence.

In other words, this is what should happen when mentally ill kids do stupid things, including potentially contemplating using homemade ricin to injure a spurned associate (as the RA who reported this believed he intended to do). More power to Milzman’s family for having the resources to arrange a settlement like this.

But it is a lesson in the disparities built into our system.

11 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Well, this kid got a little farther than some of the other crazies who’ve tried to make ricin. He carried out one step that at the very least concentrated the ricin even if it didn’t really purify it. However, although the FBI lab analysis confirmed ricin was indeed present in the powder, what they didn’t address in the affidavit is whether the ricin the kid prepared was still in a chemical state that preserved its toxic properties. The number they give, that enough was present to kill a 220 pound man if ingested. is the toxicity for ricin that is fully active. I’m betting this stuff was far short of 100% active given how the kid treated it.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, the Defense PSR makes it clear that this might have killed 50% of humans who ingested it. It was real, though not very concentrated, assuming mom and dad the lawyer sprung for good analysis which I would be shocked if they did not.

  2. emptywheel says:

    I take that back.

    From the defense presentence report:

    The Statement of Offense to which the government and Mr. Milzman have agreed states that information contained within a 2008 United States Army textbook (the Textbook of Military Medicine, Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare) indicates that the quantity of ricin that Mr. Milzman produced could have been lethal to a human being if it were inhaled or injected. For the Court’s information, however, several experts who independently reviewed the government’s ricin analysis on Mr. Milzman’s behalf reached different conclusions. For example, medical toxicologist Anne-Michelle Ruha, M.D., concluded that the ricin produced by Mr. Milzman “was far from the purified form of the toxin which is considered highly lethal and dangerous” and that “[i]f the entire 123 mg of castor bean extract possessed by Mr. Milzman had been ingested, it is unclear that any toxicity would have ensued.” See Exhibit E. Similarly, medical toxicologist Steven B. Bird, M.D. concluded that no testing had been done to determine whether the ricin produced by Mr. Milzman was of a quality that potentially could be toxic to humans or even animals, that the crude substance likely had a large particle size that would cause little toxicity, and that the absence of any delivery device made the substance “an improbable or impossible method of poisoning.”

    I didn’t pull the underlying exhibit, but can if you want it.

    • Jim White says:

      Heh. No, that’s good enough for me. And matches very well with my first thoughts and about five minutes of outside reading.
      And now NSA will be tagging all searches that have both acetone and castor beans to go along with your previous notation that they track acetone and hydrogen peroxide when linked.

      • emptywheel says:

        Who’s to say they (or DHS) didn’t have it tagged? But they’d look and say, “nice white kid at Georgetown” and decide not to sic an informant on him.

  3. emptywheel says:

    And as I noted in my twitter fight who disagrees with my comparison here: this kid was also searching on anarchist cookbook. Hell, that used to get you arrested, by itself. The Inspire of the 1970s?

    • emptywheel says:

      As are the teenagers who get caught in FBI stings.

      I’m willing to treat young men as stupid shits until they’re into their 20s. Cause they are.

      • wallace says:

        quote”And now NSA will be tagging all searches that have both acetone and castor beans to go along with your previous notation that they track acetone and hydrogen peroxide when linked.”unquote

        Holy mother of cleaning your carpet with chemicals as advised on a home repair forum..ie.. Hydrogen peroxide mixed with baking soda. Just bought 3 qts. HP and 2 qts. of acetone for my art painting with lacquer based pigments on wood veneer. I guess I can expect a legion of FBI and NSA and DHS and EPA and DEA and god knows what other agency jackbooted thugs to kick in my door at any given moment. Fuck em. They’ll find out what the 2nd amendment really means.

  4. orionATL says:

    “..He, like many of the young Muslims who get caught in stings with “WMDs,” needs treatment for mental illness, not a long sentence…”

    yes, precisely. the nutty nigerian and the bangladeshi kid come to my mind. a year of incarceration with treatment would likely have changed both toward a less hostile outlook on the world and less acting out. actually, i suspect almost all single “terrorist” attacks, foreign or domestic, of every kind, are by the mentally ill (times square and boston excepted).

    “radicalized” by watching “breaking bad”? violent tv shows could never incite such behavior, especially dressey, edgey, popular tv shows, now could they.?

    the question we should be asking ourselves is who radicalized our fbi and police and prosecutors, turning them into an american equivalent of the ISIS, acting brutally, without any sense of wisdom about human nature or any compassion, exploiting young men experiencing grandiosity and violent fantasies using informers and undercover agents to generate fbi- facilitated fake terrorist attacks?

    and then we send them to colorado super-max for isolation-cell torture and we prevent them from speaking out about their experiences either in prison or with the fbi:


    what kind of vicious, western-society version of ISIS have we become – a complete outlier of viciousness toward the mentally ill and the poor (the poweress, who are, thereby, non-threatening to “the law”), relative to our european ancestor societies (and many other societies in the world).

    • orionATL says:

      the answer to my query lies with an irresponsible, inarticuate, and politically cowardly congress. a congress that creates social organizations – like the fbi’s new national security directorate – that have the leeway, if not the mandate to conduct themselves professionally in the manner i just excoriated. and then fails, no refuses, to exercise competent oversight of their monstrous creations.

      it lies with current leaders of those organizations who do not possess the moral insight and intellect to see the many benefits of not treating suspects and defendants brutally/sadistically (as in guantanamo/bracket manning) and hence do not lead their fbi, nsa dhs, dea policing employees toward more humane and more effective and less costly policing options. those better leaders seem never to be selected in these times

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