No ricin was found during a search of the Mississippi home of the man charged with sending letters tainted with the toxic substance to President Barack Obama and a U.S. senator, an FBI agent testified.
Agent Brandon Grant also told a federal judge in Oxford, Mississippi, during a hearing today that investigators found no trace of the deadly poison in defendant Paul Kevin Curtis’s vehicle, his ex-wife’s home or his parents’ house.
The substances found in the letters now indicates “a very crude form of ricin,” Grant said, while noting that final test results as to the toxicity of the mailed substance aren’t complete.
Curtis, 45, of Corinth, is accused of mailing envelopes to Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, that were intercepted April 16, the day after two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, and found to contain “a suspicious granular substance” that tested positive for ricin. He faces charges of using the mail to convey threats to people including Obama and faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander in Oxford is conducting a hearing to determine whether Curtis will be bound over for a grand jury and whether he will be released on bail. After a lunch break today, she recessed the hearing until tomorrow morning.
The letters were postmarked April 8 and both read in part: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die” and were signed “I am KC and I approve this message.”
Ricin is made from castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It’s harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested, according to the CDC website.
Grant said today it appeared someone had “put castor beans into a food processor or blender and ground them up.”
Grant also testified that while no postage stamps or envelopes were found in Curtis’s home, some were found in his car. He said he didn’t know if those found in the vehicle were self-sealing as were the ones used in the mailings.
A “dirty word” search of Curtis’s computer didn’t come up with any searches or anything related to ricin, Grant said, adding that the computer is still being analyzed.
Curtis’s attorney, Christi McCoy of Oxford, argued in court last week that all the evidence against her client was circumstantial unless he could be linked to the ricin.
McCoy today in court raised the possibility that Curtis was being framed for the mailings by a Tupelo man recently arrested on child molestation charges with whom Curtis had a long-running e-mail feud.
In 2007, Curtis was reported by his wife to the Bonneville Police Department, Grant and Victor Dickerson of the U.S. Secret Service said in an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint against him. They said she told them he was “extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones.”
Inquiries with Wicker’s staff turned up previous letters to his Washington office with the sign-off “this is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message,” according to the affidavit. Curtis also wrote a blog post in September 2010 saying he was working on a novel about black market body parts titled “Missing Pieces,” according to the agents.
A third, similar letter with a suspicious substance was sent on April 8 to a judge in Lee County, where Curtis lives, the agents said.
All three letters were on yellow paper and bore Memphis, Tennessee, postmarks, the agents said. Letters sent from northern Mississippi, where Curtis lives, usually bear a Memphis postmark, according to the affidavit.
Ricin poisoning symptoms depend on the purity, route of exposure and the dose. Initial symptoms from inhalation occur as early as four to six hours after the exposure, and include difficulty breathing and a cough, according to the CDC.
The symptoms can progress rapidly to fluid within the lungs and eventually respiratory failure. Deaths from the poison usually happen within 36 to 72 hours. While no antidote exists, doctors can counteract the effects of the poisoning by helping victims breathe or giving them fluids.
The case is U.S. v. Curtis, 13-mj-00019, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).
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