Suspect held without bail as judge sends ricin-letters case to grand jury

Officials say they've linked James Everett Dutschke to the ricin letters sent to the president and lawmakers, having found traces of the toxin in his martial arts studio and in the suspect's trash.
By Jeff Black, Staff Writer, NBC News

A federal judge said Thursday that a man accused of sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama and other officials should remain in jail without bond, and ruled that a grand jury will decide on formal charges, local media reported.

“It appears to the court that there is probable cause to hold the defendant,” U.S. Magistrate S. Allan Alexander said Thursday in a preliminary hearing, the Daily Journal of Northeast Mississippi reported.

James Everett Dutschke, 41, of Tupelo on Thursday also waived his right to a bond hearing, according to NBC affiliate WMC TV. Monday, the judge also decline to set bond after authorities argued the suspect was a flight risk.

Though prosecutors initially charged the former martial arts instructor with an attempted use of a biological weapon — ricin — Alexander referred the case to an upcoming grand jury to determine formal charges.

The only witness to testify in the Oxford courtroom Thursday was FBI Special Agent Stephen E. Thomason, who wrote an affidavit to the court supporting Dutschke’s arrest.

Thomason testified that lab analysis shows the granular substances found in the letters is ricin, the Daily Journal reported. He also said initial testing show the letters are linked to a computer printer owned by Dutschke, though with some uncertainty

Thomason also revealed that the FBI would execute a search warrant at another location where Dutsckhke was believed to keep some of his belongings.

According to the affidavit, the FBI found traces of the nerve agent ricin in a martial arts studio once used by Dutschke and on a dust mask. FBI agents watched as Dutschke threw the items in a trash bin, the affidavit said.

The affidavit, unsealed on Tuesday, also alleged that Dutschke ordered castor beans — used to make ricin — on eBay last November and December.

The FBI is still conducting tests in order to identifying trace evidence, residues, and signatures of production that could provide evidence to support the investigation.

The ricin case originally focused on Elvis impersonator, Paul Kevin Curtis, a man whom Dutschke had feuded with for years. Curtis was arrested two weeks ago and briefly detained but but charges were later dropped. Curtis has said Dutschke framed him.

An FBI surveillance team was watching Dutschke on April 22 when he entered his former dojo, Tupelo Taekwondo Plus, and removed a bunch of things and tossed them into a garbage bin on the street, the affidavit said.

Ricin can be lethal, but an FBI agent testified in court that the variety found in the letters sent to Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County, Miss. wasn’t very potent.

Dutschke has maintained he is innocent of the charges. His attorney, George Lucas, has said no evidence has shown the letters were dangerous, or used a weapon as initial charges state.

NBC News' Pete Williams and Tracy Connor contributed to this report.
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