- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Federal authorities view Dr. Raymond W. Mettetal Jr. far more ominously than do patients who loved his bedside manner. FBI agents and prosecutors are trying to return the Virginia neurologist to prison for stockpiling biological weapons capable of killing at least 3,900 people.
Dr. Mettetal's conviction and 10-year sentence under a federal anti-terrorism law were overturned last year because evidence was seized illegally. Now, he says the anthrax scare will prevent him from getting a fair retrial next week.
"It defies common sense to think that a jury, operating in a climate of fear, could rationally distinguish between [anthrax] and ricin, the toxin that the defendant is accused of possessing," said his plea to postpone his retrial.
Dr. Mettetal has admitted under oath that he made enough of the poison ricin to fill a Mason jar two fingers deep after 11 years of nursing anger toward Vanderbilt University Medical Center official George Allen, whom he blamed for his failure to become a brain surgeon.
FBI witnesses said the toxin he distilled from castor beans is 30 times more potent than the sarin nerve gas used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks that killed 12 persons and injured more than 5,000. Ricin kills after about three days of violent vomiting when the victim is asphyxiated because his bloodstream clots.
"This gave him an opportunity to torture [Dr. Allen]," federal prosecutor Ray Fitzgerald said.
Defense papers filed in Charlottesville claim the anthrax attacks will be "indirectly associated" with him so the trial should be postponed or, at the least, his attorneys should be allowed to quiz prospective jurors about their prejudices.
Yesterday, an aide to Senior U.S. District Judge James H. Michael Jr. said the judge rejected those pleas. Dr. Mettetal's trial on charges of making the largest stash of biological weapons ever prosecuted in the United States remains set to begin Monday.
Conviction requires proof of possession "for use as a weapon," but the government need not prove an intent to kill.
Cornell University scientists say 1 milligram of ricin can kill an adult if it is injected as authorities claim Dr. Mettetal intended. FBI scientists made a more conservative estimate and assumed that, for use as a weapon, the poison would be inhaled instead. The 3,900 milligrams of ricin needed to kill that many people by injection would weigh less than a nickel.
Dr. Mettetal's Mason jar, found with other chemicals in a rented storage shed at Harrisonburg, Va., held 43.5 grams of fluid that was 1.9 percent pure, or about 8,265 milligrams of pure ricin.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission says the only other convictions under the federal law that bans possession of biological weapons (18 U.S.C. 175) involved five Minnesota men seized with 700 milligrams of ricin in 1992.
Dr. Mettetal, 50, who is described as timid and reserved, testified at his first trial that it was all a fantasy to help himself feel as though he had power over Dr. Allen. The neurosurgeon's 1984 criticism of Dr. Mettetal's skills drove the young resident to quit neurosurgery.
"I never intended to use that ricin on Dr. Allen or anybody," he testified in 1998. "I was just trying to see if I could make it. Some of the things I've done I don't know exactly why I've done them."
In 1995, Vanderbilt police arrested Dr. Mettetal at Dr. Allen's parking space in a Nashville, Tenn., garage, where he was found wearing an Abe Lincoln beard, carrying an 8-inch "Supervet" hypodermic, and stalking a target in what state and federal authorities called "a dry run."
After almost five years behind bars, Dr. Mettetal's conviction was reversed and he was freed on bail. He regained his Virginia medical license last year, at least temporarily. The Virginia Board of Medicine started a process in August to administratively suspend or revoke his license.
This time Assistant U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald will be able to introduce as evidence Dr. Mettetal's testimony from the first trial as well as admissions at his sentencing, Judge Michael ruled.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide