By JB Clark
ABERDEEN – Instead of going forward with a previously agreed upon 25-year-sentence for charges of sending poison-laced letters to the president and other elected officials, James Everett Dutschke, in the dramatic fashion he has become known for, on Tuesday derailed his sentencing hearing and withdrew his previous guilty plea.
Dutschke, 42, was charged April 27, 2013, with mailing ricin-laden letters to President Barack Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland earlier that month. He initially entered a plea of not guilty and then changed his plea to guilty in January.
It will now be up to U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock whether to accept this latest change in plea. She made it clear to Dutschke that decision “is in the discretion of the court.”
Dutschke argued about many of the details in the presentencing report, contending his was not an act of terrorism and the intended poisoned-letter recipients weren’t victims, then read a prepared statement to Aycock and the court.
It told the story of his investigation and legal proceedings with a loosely veiled metaphor in which he was a Hall of Fame gymnastics instructor and Paul Kevin Curtis (the man originally charged in sending the letters and who Dustchke was later charged with framing) was a “Barney the purple dinosaur” impersonator.
Dutschke went on to talk about how he was a gardener and gardening was the only thing that could take his mind off of the allegations of fondling brought against him by some of his Taekwondo students in Lee County Circuit Court.
“Gardening is your distraction, it brings you closer to God,” he said, asking the judge to imagine herself in his loosely veiled metaphor. “You’re eager to clear your name and this provides distraction – each tiny sprout digging into the ground and stretching to the sun is like each of your students… There is no purpose more peaceful and nothing more sacred than that.”
In talking about gardening, Dutschke mentioned a castor fertilizer, which he claimed is a ricin protein made from the castor bean, but not ricin poison, saying, “You can’t have a victim of fertilizer.”
Dutschke said investigators found the ricin fertilizer, not ricin poison, and the charges against him are a part of a conspiracy between the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
To prove the contents of the letters weren’t poisonous, he said he would gladly eat them.
“Bring me the contents of the remaining two letters, I will dump the content onto a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and wash it down with a glass of chocolate milk,” he said. “We can solve this ridiculously absurd case here. If they are right, case closed, I’ll be dead and people can go on with their Kardashian-filled lives.”
Talks with lawyer
As Dutschke wound through his accusations of perjury and denial of the crimes he previously pleaded guilty to, Aycock told him to wrap things up within the next five minutes.
He offered a dramatic sigh and continued, “I don’t know if I can complete this in five minutes.”
He then issued demands, asking that his case be thrown out – saying it is the result of perjury – and asking for an investigation into the lies he accused the prosecutor and investigators of telling in open court, saying they played the judge like a “prom date bet.”
Aycock told Dustchke she was having trouble moving forward with sentencing and his previously signed plea agreement because he seemed to be recanting his admission of guilt. She ordered a 30-minute break in which he was to confer with his attorney and decide if he would reaffirm his guilt and receive his sentence or withdraw his guilty plea and plea agreement.
After the break, and another short recess in which Dutschke conferred with his attorney, Ken Coghlan, he mentioned the possibility of having his state fondling charges moved into federal court. Aycock assured him the transfer of courts would be impossible and advised he listen to Coghlan’s advice.
The court took another short break where Dutschke left to confer with Coghlan again. After the five-minute recess, Dutschke finally said he would withdraw his guilty plea.
The court must now consider if Dutschke’s motion to withdraw his plea will be accepted. If it is, a trial will likely follow in which Dutschke and the government will have an opportunity to present all of their evidence and call witnesses.
The previous plea agreement said the U.S. Attorney’s Office would ask for a 300-month sentence if he entered a guilty plea, instead of the possible life sentence the charges carry.
Dutschke also pleaded guilty to state fondling charges in exchange for a recommendation of a 300-month sentence, which would run alongside his federal sentence.
A representative of the Lee County District Attorney’s Office said the plea agreement for the fondling charges in Tupelo and Lee County still stands with Dutschke. Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he will still be requesting the maximum sentence for the one count of sexual battery filed in Lee County.
At the end of the sentencing hearing, which became a change-of-plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar affirmed the government’s evidence supports its case and denied Dutschke’s allegations of perjury and false evidence.
“The defendant is mistaken – the mask did test positive for his DNA and we have not lied,” Lamar said. “But we’ll get to address this on another day.”
During the now-moot portion of the sentencing hearing in which the defense objected to some of the presentencing enhancements, it was reported the three letters Dutschke is accused of mailing and the subsequent investigation and precautionary measures cost various local, state and federal government organizations more than $600,000.