By JB Clark, Robbie Ward and Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – James Everett Dutschke was arrested at his South Canal Street home in Tupelo early Saturday morning on charges of knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent for use as a weapon.
He faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if found guilty.
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton said Dutschke, 41, was taken into custody around 1 a.m. without incident and is now in the hands of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The arrest comes after more than a week of intense FBI investigations into the April 8 sending of ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and another Lee County public official.
Dutschke likely will go before a judge Monday for his initial hearing but the time of that hearing has not yet been released.
Dutschke’s otherwise normal east Tupelo neighborhood spent much of last week under near-constant federal presence and lengthy searches which left many neighbors on edge. For several days, manned unmarked vehicles and even helicopters were stationed at locations on Martin and South Canal streets within eyesight of the Dutschke residence.
A neighbor who preferred not to be identified said he had seen unmarked cars parked nearby that didn’t belong to residents living in the area. “We’re ready for our neighborhood to get back to normal,” he said.
Friday before the arrest, neighbors watched the small brick house from cars and porches until well into the evening while curious onlookers passed by in car and on foot.
For part of the afternoon, Dutschke worked outside under the hood of the green van that was the source of consternation last week and at one point, a “be on the lookout” call from Tupelo police on Wednesday. The call was later canceled when Dutschke voluntarily turned the van over to authorities. His attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said authorities had access to the van the day prior but simply did not have a chance to process it for evidence.
Before going inside the home on Friday, Dutschke waved to reporters on the scene and took a photo with his cellphone.
Dutschke, a former taekwondo instructor and political candidate, spent Tuesday morning meeting with federal officers said he gave the FBI permission to search his home.
Dutschke appeared calm and chatted with reporters as agents in hazmat suits searched his residence for about 10 hours Tuesday. On Wednesday the former site of his business, Tupelo taekwondo Plus on Rankin Street Extended, was searched.
Basham said Dutschke had cooperated fully with the FBI.
Dutschke’s name was first mentioned in connection with the ricin letters Monday during the hearing of the initial suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, of Corinth.
Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, argued in court that there was no evidence to tie Curtis to the case and it was possible Dutschke, with whom Curtis claims to have had an ongoing feud, could have framed him.
Dutschke said he had began speaking to FBI agents almost a week prior to that mention. He said he suspected his name was given to the FBI by Curtis’ ex-wife when she was asked for the names of anyone who might want to frame Curtis.
Curtis was initially named a suspect because the content of the letter mailed with the ricin was signed, “This is KC and I approve this message,” a tagline similar to what Curtis often used. The letters also contained a quote frequently used by Curtis on social media sites and referenced a book he has tried to get published.
Curtis’ brother, Tupelo insurance agent Jack Curtis, said he is interested in seeing any evidence authorities collected related to the new arrest.
“If they have the evidence, let the chips fall where they may,” Jack Curtis said. “I hate to speculate on anyone’s guilt until the evidence comes out, but it would further vindicate my brother.”
Dutschke has maintained throughout the investigation that he is innocent and has only come into contact with Curtis on three occasions. On one occasion, Dutschke said Curtis approached him and “accosted” him about trying to publish a letter or article written by Curtis.
Dutschke said on a third occasion they had an email exchange regarding a Mensa certificate Curtis posted on a social networking page. He said he believed Curtis’ certificate was fake and emailed him to remove the certificate immediately.
Dutschke said the email exchange was their last contact and happened June 1, 2010.
This is not the first time Dutschke has come into question by law enforcement officials. He is currently out of jail on a $25,000 bond and faces three state indictments that he fondled three females under the age of 16 and was convicted of indecent exposure earlier this year. He is currently appealing that conviction.
Dutschke has twice run for public office in Northeast Mississippi. In 2007, he unsuccessfully challenged Democratic incumbent Steve Holland for a seat in the state House of Representatives as a Republican. In 2008, he lost a bid for Lee County election commissioner as a Democrat.
Judge Sadie Holland, mother of Steve Holland, was a recipient of one of the ricin-laced letters.