James Everett Dutschke will appear today in federal court to answer charges brought by federal prosecutors that he sent letters containing ricin to a number of officials, including President Barack Obama and Senator Roger Wicker. If this sounds like deja vu, it’s because federal investigators got all the way to court to charge someone else with the crime just s few days ago, only to dismiss the charges almost immediately afterward. This time, NBC reports, the feds think they have the right suspect:
US News also reports on the bizarre turn of events, including other charges Dutschke faces in separate proceedings:
The Wall Street Journal reports that the two men were involved in a feud over Curtis’s allegations of organ harvesting and Dutschke’s refusal to print them in a local newsletter. Curtis’s brother told the Journal that Dutschke then attempted to scuttle the Elvis impersonator’s musical gigs.
Before his arrest, Dutschke told The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that his last interaction with Curtis was in 2010, when the men engaged in a testy email exchange over Curtis’s allegedly fake membership certificate from Mensa, an organization for people with high IQ scores.
Dutschke worked as a martial arts instructor and in January was charged with molesting three girls under the age of 16, according to news reports. He is awaiting trial on those charges.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Mississippi, Dutschke is charged with “knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling, transferring, acquiring, retaining and possessing a biological agent, toxin and delivery system, for use as a weapon,” which carries the possible sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Practically speaking, the Department of Justice had better have an airtight case against Dutschke. The arrest of — and filing of charges against — an entirely different suspect will be fodder for the defense, which will undoubtedly argue that the FBI and DoJ got it right the first time. Any defense attorney worth his salt will use the cross-examination process to force agents assigned to the case to describe how they came to recommend charges against Curtis based on the evidence they discovered, and will use that call into question their competency, which will undermine any jury’s confidence in the evidence produced later implicating Dutschke.
Over the last two weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing, there has been considerable debate about the media use of the words “alleged” and “suspect” in reporting on cases of crime and terrorism. This ricin case makes a pretty good argument that using these terms is low-cost and good practice.