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No evidence of ricin at Mississippi suspect's home, FBI testifies

April 22, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Federal agents wearing hazardous material suits inspect a trash can outside the house of Paul Kevin Curtis in Corinth, Miss., on Friday. Curtis is in custody under the suspicion of sending letters covered in ricin to President Obama and two other officials.
Federal agents wearing hazardous material suits inspect a trash can outside… (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated…)

Paul Kevin Curtis dreamed of conspiracy and was convinced that the government was spying on him -- which it had been, at least a little, since 2007, in the sense that officials occasionally investigated him on suspicions that his anti-government ramblings might turn violent.

The Mississippi Elvis impersonator was charged last week on suspicion of mailing three letters filled with ricin, a poison, to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Lee County, Miss., Judge Sadie Holland in the days following the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15. The letters inside were similar to ramblings he had posted on his blog and on his Facebook page.

Yet the FBI says it hasn't found any poison-making materials at his home in the investigation after his arrest Wednesday.

“There was no apparent ricin, castor beans or any material there that could be used for the manufacturing, like a blender or something,” FBI Agent Brandon Grant testified Friday at a preliminary hearing in an Oxford, Miss., federal court, according to the Associated Press.

Grant added that investigators had not found "dirty words" on Curtis' computers that would show that he'd been searching the Internet for how to make the poison.

Or as Curtis' attorney, Christi McCoy of Oxford, put it to the Los Angeles Times in an interview Monday: "There is absolutely not a shred of evidence to link this poor guy" to an attempted poisoning.

“That’s the truth!" McCoy said. "He is the perfect scapegoat, the perfect patsy, and it’s really sad because at first everybody’s like, you know, he’s kind of crazy, maybe he did it. But as the searches continued, there’s just nothing on this guy. Nothing on his computers, in his car, in his house.”

Curtis nurtured a morbid theory that the government was involved in an organ-selling conspiracy after seeing body parts in the freezer of the hospital where he worked in 1999.

He pestered public officials about the theory, self-published a novel called "Missing Pieces," and on the day of his arrest last week, wrote on Facebook: "I'm on the hidden front lines of a secret war. A war that is making billions of dollars for corrupt mafia related organizations and people. (bone, tissue, organ, body parts harvesting black market) when we lay our loved ones to rest."

His family said he had been diagnosed as bipolar after being fired from his job at the hospital, and described him as troubled but nonviolent.

In its criminal complaint, the government said the letters were signed "KC," and that the letters referenced "Missing Pieces," an apparent nod to Curtis' book.

FBI agent Grant also testified that the letters had indentations from someone writing on something that had been placed on top of the papers, and those indentations were for Curtis’ former addresses in Booneville and Tupelo, according to the AP.  The envelopes and stamps were self-adhesive and thus not expected to yield DNA, just as they have not yielded fingerprints thus far.

The preliminary hearing will resume Tuesday, and additional witnesses are expected to testify.

"Hopefully it will be dismissed," McCoy said of the charges against her client. "They don’t have anything on him other than something that appeared on his Facebook page, that was in the public eye.”

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the nation battled a series of anthrax attacks that were never formally solved. A former Army scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, was publicly implicated and then later exonerated by way of several lawsuit settlements. Officials later focused on Army microbiologist Bruce E. Ivins, who killed himself in 2008, though the case against him was also met with doubts.

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