By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
An FBI affidavit claims it can directly link the poison ricin to former Tupelo martial arts instructor J. Everett Dutschke.
The seven-page document, unsealed Tuesday, details investigators’ claims that Dutschke is the person who made ricin and mailed poison-laden letters to President Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.
Dutschke, under arrest since Saturday, insists he is innocent.
Most revealing from the affidavit is “a witness,” who told investigators that years ago Dutschke claimed he could manufacture poison, put it in envelopes and send them to elected officials so they would die.
Dutschke’s name was first connected to the letter scheme by Christi R. McCoy of Oxford, the attorney for Kevin Curtis, the first man accused of sending the letters.
“I am very disappointed in decisions made to pursue charges against Kevin … in light of the facts we now know,” McCoy said Tuesday afternoon after the U.S. District Court unsealed the FBI affidavit against Dutschke.
Monday, McCoy demanded that the case’s chief prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams, immediately restore Curtis’ property and provide him a temporary housing allowance after his residence was heavily damaged by FBI investigators.
The FBI insists items it recovered after Dutschke discarded them tested three times “positive” for ricin, a deadly poison made from castor beans.
Chief among the FBI’s claims against Dutschke:
• Yellow paper similar to the ricin letters, address labels and a dust mask were found in Dutschke’s home garbage April 22.
• Dutschke was observed discarding items through his vehicle window on April 22. When the FBI recovered them, they included a coffee grinder, a box of latex gloves and a dust mask, which it believed were used in making ricin.
• On Jan. 18, 2013, local law enforcement seized Dutschke’s computer and found he had downloaded two publications about ricin two weeks before.
• Dutschke denied ever purchasing castor beans, although eBay records show he ordered castor bean seeds in November and December 2012.
• His home computer’s operating system and his printer’s driver were re-installed April 22, which investigators say could be done by “persons wishing to delete the contents.”
• Tests were “positive” for ricin on items recovered from Dutschke’s former business, Taekwondo Plus on Rankin Boulevard Extended in Tupelo.
• Numerous printed documents found at his 344 S. Canal St. residence bear the same “trashmarks” as the three ricin letters sent to President Obama, Wicker and Holland.
Thursday, government prosecutors will present what they consider sufficient evidence to convince Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander to send Dutschke’s case to a federal grand jury, which will consider whether to indict him.
The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. in Oxford.
Dutschke continues to be held in the Lafayette County Detention Center without bond on a charge that he obtained or attempted to obtain ricin and a delivery system to use it as a weapon.
If he is convicted on that charge, he faces up to life in prison.
In Lee County, Dutschke also faces up to 45 years in state prison if convicted on three indictments claiming he molested three females under the age of 16, believed to be students at his martial arts studio. He pleaded not guilty and was free on $25,000 bond awaiting trial.
The District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday it intends to prosecute the charges, although it will wait to see what happens with the federal case.
News of this story began on April 16, when the Jackson FBI learned that a federal mail facility in Maryland identified a letter to Wicker containing a “suspicious granular substance.”
The yellow-paper letter inside the envelope contained a cryptic message signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” a common social media sign-off by Elvis tribute artist Kevin Curtis.
Federal authorities believed the substance to be ricin.
Wicker’s staff was enlisted to help identify who, among his constituents, signed their communications “I am KC” etc. Letters also turned up to Obama and Holland.
Ultimately Kevin Curtis’ name came to the fore and he was arrested April 17, insisting he knew nothing about the scheme.
The case became an immediate media sensation, occurring almost simultaneously with the Boston Marathon bombings and a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.
An April 19 search of Curtis’ Corinth home found no evidence of ricin production, this affidavit reveals.
By Tuesday, April 23, it was obvious to media in federal court that prosecutors had no direct link from Curtis to ricin. Charges were dropped by late that afternoon, and Curtis and his legal team were on their way to a whirlwind of media appearances in New York City.
At the same time, Curtis and others insisted he and Dutschke had feuded for years via email and social media postings. Their separate accounts of what fueled the feud differ widely.
In the FBI affidavit, which accompanies his arrest warrant, the so-called “witness” told investigators that Dutschke claimed to have “a secret knowledge” for “getting rid of people in office.” The “witness” also claimed to have had an altercation with Dutschke about the witness’ daughter.
Dutschke ran as a Republican for the Legislature against Rep. Steve Holland in 2007 and lost, then ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Lee County election commissioner the following year.
Sadie Holland, Steve Holland’s mother, dismissed a Dutschke civil lawsuit against the witness in 2006.
As for the materials to make the poison letters, the FBI claims it recovered similar materials from Dutschke’s home garbage April 22. While the address labels are larger than the ones on the letters, the FBI says it appears the letter-labels were “cut from a larger label” and placed on the letters.
When Dutschke was arrested on state charges Jan. 18 by Lee County Sheriff’s and Tupelo Police deputies, they seized his computer. The search revealed, the FBI claims, that on Dec. 31, Dutschke downloaded two publications about the safe handling and storage of ricin, as well as one about a method of detecting ricin.
Within the affidavit, questions also are raised about cell phone messages from a phone for Dutschke’s wife and her son. Various allegedly suspicious texts occurred April 20 by someone using that phone.