Was the Ricin Suspect Set Up by a Fellow Mensa Member?

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 23 2013 2:43 PM

Was the Ricin Suspect Set Up by a Fellow Mensa Member?

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Castor beans, the basic ingredient for ricin

Photo by Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Update 6 p.m.: The court has officially dismissed the charges against Curtis this evening, saying that "the ongoing investigation has revealed new information." Officials could still reinstate the charges at a later time, but the decision makes it very clear that police are now looking elsewhere.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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Perhaps the police had the wrong guy after all when they arrested an Elvis impersonator last week for allegedly sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama and a GOP senator. ABC News with the latest developments:

Paul Kevin Curtis, suspected of sending ricin tainted letters to President Obama and other public officials, was released on bond today one day after a court hearing in which investigators said they did not find any evidence of the poison in Curtis' home or car.
The U.S. Marshall's office in Oxford, Miss., confirmed that Curtis had been released from jail, where he had been kept since last week on formal charges of sending threats through the mail. Curtis, 45, was arrested at his home in Corinth, Miss., a day after a letter laced with the poison was discovered addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. A second letter was intercepted before it reached President Obama and a third letter was mailed to Sadie Holland, a justice of the peace in Lee County, Miss.

Investigators believe that the ricin in the letters was made by crudely chopping castor beans in a food processor or blender, but authorities found neither device in Curtis' home. Bolstering his case was the fact that police also found no trace of the poison in his home or car, and no Internet searches for how to make the drug on his computer.

Earlier this week, Curtis' attorney, Christi McCoy, pointed to another possible suspect she said may have framed her client: alleged child molester and former political hopeful J. Everett Dutschke. Dutschke apparently has a long history with both the judge who was sent the third letter and her son, Steve Holland, a state lawmaker. As the son explained to USA Today, Dutschke "hates the Hollands with a passion." He ran against, and lost to, Holland in 2007, no doubt explaining at least some of the ill will.

Dutschke also isn't on the best terms with Curtis. "They were known to have some kind of disagreement between them that may have started with Dutschke's claim that he would help Curtis publish a book," according to the paper. Here's USA Today with more on the similarities between Curtis and Dutschke:

According to their online posts, Dutschke and Curtis are both musicians, martial artists and members of Mensa, an international society for people with high IQs. Dutschke says he is an officer in the organization. Both were known for ranting online and writing Internet posts and emails to prominent figures.

TPM reports that the FBI visited Dutschke's home this afternoon. The authorities are expected to provide more information on the case later today. In the meantime, we'll point you to this Explainer on how you don't exactly have to be an evil genius to figure out how to make ricin.

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