By JB Clark
OXFORD – James Everett Dutschke pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to making ricin and mailing poisoned letters to the president and two other public officials.
Dutschke, 42, previously said he had nothing to do with sending the ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland last April but reversed his not-guilty plea Friday before U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock.
His guilty plea to four counts brought a recommendation from federal prosecutors for a 25-year sentence. It would run concurrently with any sentence that may result from three fondling charges against Dutschke, a former Tupelo martial arts instructor, in Lee County Circuit Court.
Aycock did not set a sentencing date, but a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the sentencing could come in approximately 60 days.
Dutschke, clad in prison orange, paused often in court when answering questions to choke back emotion and regain his composure.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner read the report of factual evidence the government had planned to present at the trial, which had been scheduled for May 27, Dutschke objected to numerous points of evidence but eventually pleaded guilty to all four counts.
After Dutschke conferred with his attorney, Aycock said, “I want to make sure you understand your charges and this description of your conduct and that it is true and accurate.”
After a pause Dutschke replied, “I am voluntarily entering this plea and understand I am taking responsibility for everything that (Joyner) mentioned.”
When asked if he was coerced into entering the guilty plea, he said, “No ma’am, other than the fact that I could be facing life.”
He then proceeded to enter a guilty plea for each of the four counts, one count of making and possessing the poison ricin and three counts of mailing threatening ricin-laced letters.
Dutschke faced a maximum penalty of life in prison on the production of the letter. He has been in the Lafayette County Detention Center since April without bond.
Part of Dutschke’s plea agreement stipulates that a later ricin-related charge will be dropped. A Nov. 20 indictment alleges that while in jail he attempted to recruit others to acquire ricin and send it in a letter to Wicker.
When the three letters were intercepted, federal agents first arrested Paul Kevin Curtis because the letter contained the statement, “I am KC and I approve this message,” which Curtis often used to sign his Facebook posts.
Charges against Curtis were dropped and Dutschke was made the target of the investigation after it was brought up in Curtis’ initial court appearance that the men had a long-standing feud.
Curtis’ attorney Christi McCoy said Friday marks the end of a tough year and the beginning of a clean slate for her client.
“It’s nice that the criminal portion of this can be laid to rest,” McCoy said. “I think everyone knows Kevin didn’t do this and the record is clear now.”
Dutschke faces three counts of fondling a minor in the Lee County Circuit Court. Two hearings in that case are slated for Tuesday.
Dutschke was previously a martial arts instructor in Tupelo and ran against state Rep. Steve Holland, Judge Holland’s son, for a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2007.