- Associated Press - Saturday, April 27, 2013

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) — The arrest of a 41-year-old Mississippi martial arts instructor in a case of poison-laced letters sent to President Obama and others capped a week in which investigators initially zeroed in on a rival of James Everett Dutschke, then decided they had the wrong man.

Federal authorities arrested Mr. Dutschke early Saturday at his home in Tupelo. He was charged with “knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon, to wit: ricin.”

U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams and Daniel McMullen, the FBI agent in charge in Mississippi, made the announcement in a news release. Mr. Dutschke is expected to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Oxford.

Authorities said the hunt for a suspect revealed tie after small-town tie between the two men being investigated and the 80-year-old county judge who, along with Mr. Obama and U.S. Sen. Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican, was among the targets of the letters.

Mr. Dutschke’s house, business and vehicles in Tupelo were searched earlier in the week, often by crews in hazardous-materials suits. He also had come under surveillance.

Mr. Dutschke’s attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said she had no comment. Earlier last week she said that Mr. Dutschke was cooperating fully with investigators and that Mr. Dutschke has insisted he had nothing to do with the letters. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

He already had legal problems. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty in state court to two child molestation charges involving three girls younger than 16. He also was appealing a conviction on a different charge of indecent exposure. He told The Associated Press last week that his lawyer told him not to comment on those cases.

The letters, which tests showed were tainted with ricin, were sent April 8 to Mr. Obama, Mr. Wicker and  Mississippi Judge Sadie Holland.

Wicker spokesman Ryan Taylor said that since the investigation was ongoing, the senator couldn’t comment.

Charges in the case initially were filed against a 45-year-old Elvis impersonator, Paul Kevin Curtis, and then dropped.

Mr. Curtis was arrested on April 17 at his Corinth, Miss., home, but the charges were dropped six days later, and Mr. Curtis, who says he was framed, was released from jail.

The focus then turned to Mr. Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect, the judge and the senator. Earlier in the week, as investigators searched his primary residence in Tupelo, Mr. Dutschke told AP, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“I’m a patriotic American. I don’t have any grudges against anybody. … I did not send the letters,” Mr. Dutschke said.

Mr. Curtis’ attorney, Christi McCoy, said Saturday: “We are relieved but also saddened. This crime is nothing short of diabolical. I have seen a lot of meanness in the past two decades, but this stops me in my tracks.”

Some of the language in the letters was similar to posts on Mr. Curtis’ Facebook page, and they were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.” Mr. Curtis’ signoff online was often similar.

Mr. Dutschke and Mr. Curtis were acquainted. Mr. Curtis said they had talked about possibly publishing a book on a conspiracy that Mr. Curtis insists he has uncovered to sell body parts on a black market. But he said they later had a feud.

Mr. Curtis’ attorneys have said they believe their client was set up. An FBI agent testified that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of Mr. Curtis’ home. Curtis attorney Hal Neilson said the defense gave authorities a list of people who may have had a reason to hurt Mr. Curtis, and Mr. Dutschke came up.

Judge Holland also is a common link between the two men, and both know Mr. Wicker.

Judge Holland was the presiding jurist in a 2004 case in which Mr. Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney a year earlier. Judge Holland sentenced him to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.

And Judge Holland’s family has had political skirmishes with Mr. Dutschke. Her son, Steve Holland, a Democratic state representative, said he thinks his mother’s only other encounter with Mr. Dutschke was at a rally in the town of Verona in 2007, when Mr. Dutschke ran as a Republican against Mr. Holland.

Mr. Holland said his mother confronted Mr. Dutschke after he made a derogatory speech about the Holland family. She demanded that he apologize, which Mr. Holland says he did.

On Saturday, Mr. Holland said he can’t say for certain that Mr. Dutschke is the person who sent the letter to his mother, but he added, “I feel confident the FBI knows what they are doing.”

“We’re ready for this long nightmare to be over,” Mr. Holland told AP.

• Associated Press writer Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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