- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Federal prosecutors investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks were planning to indict and seek the death penalty against a top Army microbiologist who was developing a vaccine against the deadly toxin. The scientist apparently committed suicide this week.

The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, was a leading anthrax researcher for the past 18 years at the government’s biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md.

Mr. Ivins, 62, had worked for more than a decade to develop an effective anthrax vaccine, even in cases where different strains of anthrax were mixed, which made vaccines ineffective, according to federal documents reviewed by the Associated Press.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing grand jury investigation said prosecutors were closing in on Mr. Ivins. They were planning an indictment that would have sought the death penalty for the attacks, which killed five people, crippled the postal system and traumatized a nation still reeling from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Mr. Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the investigation, said the scientist had taken a massive dose of a prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine. A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Ivins’ home in Frederick declined to comment.

Tom Ivins, a brother of the scientist, told the Associated Press that his other brother, Charles, had told him that Bruce Ivins committed suicide and Tylenol might have been involved.

Tom Ivins said Friday that federal officials working on the anthrax case questioned him about his brother a year and a half ago. “They said they were investigating him,” he said from Ohio, where he lives, in a CNN interview.

The Fort Detrick laboratory and its specialized scientists for years have been at the center of the FBI’s investigation of the anthrax mailings. In late June, the government exonerated a colleague of Bruce Ivins’, Steven Hatfill. Mr. Hatfill’s name has for years had been associated with the attacks after investigators named him a “person of interest” in 2002.

The government paid Mr. Hatfill $5.82 million to settle a lawsuit contending he was falsely accused and had been made a scapegoat for the crimes.

“We are not at this time making any official statements or comments regarding this situation,” Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington field office, which is investigating the anthrax attacks, said Friday.

Five people died and 17 were sickened by anthrax powder in letters that were mailed to lawmakers’ Capitol Hill offices, TV networks in New York and tabloid newspaper offices in Florida. Two postal workers in a Washington mail facility, a New York hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and an elderly Connecticut woman were killed.

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