By Holbrook Mohr
JACKSON — A federal judge on Friday postponed the Oct. 7 trial of a man charged with sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama and other officials.
James Everett Dutschke’s trial will be delayed until further order from the court, said U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen.
Attorney Ken Coghlan asked for the continuance earlier this month when he was appointed to the case after two federal public defenders asked to withdraw as Dutschke’s lawyers.
Coghlan said he needed more time to get discovery material and prepare a defense.
Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor from Tupelo, is charged with sending ricin-tainted letters on April 8 to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Lee County Justice Court Judge Sadie Holland.
He has pleaded not guilty to five counts and denies sending the letters. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted of the most serious charge, the production of a biological weapon. He’s being held without bond.
Dutschke is the second person to face charges in the case.
The first, entertainer and Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis, was arrested on April 17 but the charges were dropped six days later when the investigation shifted to Dutschke.
Count five of the indictment says Dutschke mailed the letters “to retaliate against and frame Kevin Curtis.” Curtis has said they met years ago and feuded over the years, including on Facebook.
The letters contained language that Curtis had often used on his Facebook page, including the line, “I am KC and I approve this message.” The letters also contained the phrase “Missing Pieces,” the same title as an unpublished book Curtis wrote about his belief that there’s a black market for body parts in the United States.
Curtis filed a defamation lawsuit against Dutschke on Wednesday in Alcorn County Circuit Court. The lawsuit seeks damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.
Holland, a Lee County Justice Court judge, was the only intended recipient to receive a letter, though she was not harmed. The others were intercepted before reaching Obama or Wicker.
In 2007, Dutschke ran in an election against Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland, the judge’s son.
Authorities say a dust mask Dutschke removed from his martial arts studio and dumped in a nearby trash can tested positive for ricin. Investigators also say he used the Internet to buy castor beans, from which ricin is derived, and researched how to make the poison.