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Charges Dropped Against Man Accused Of Sending Ricin Letters


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Mysterious new developments in Mississippi today in the case of poisoned letters sent to President Obama, a U.S. Senator and a Mississippi judge. Federal authorities are dropping charges against a man arrested last week in connection with the case.

NPR's Debbie Elliott has an update for us. And, Debbie, to start, the initial suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, is actually free tonight. What happened in this case?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, Curtis' preliminary detention hearing was abruptly halted. It was to go into a third day of testimony today, and then shortly after that, he was released from federal custody. And late in the day, a court filing in Oxford, Mississippi at the federal court there, federal prosecutors said they dropped the charges against him. They cited new evidence in the investigation, but they didn't give any new details about that new information.

Yesterday at the hearing, an FBI agent had testified that authorities did not find any evidence of ricin in the man's house or in his vehicle and that there was no indication that he had done any research looking into how to make ricin. And that is the poison that was reportedly in the letters that were sent to President Obama, to Republican Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and also to a judge there in north Mississippi.

CORNISH: So what led authorities to him in the first place?

ELLIOTT: Well, we don't know for sure. But Curtis, who lives in Corinth, Mississippi, was an Elvis impersonator, and at one time, he had been hired by Senator Wicker and others for a party. He was also known to use the phrase: I am KC, and I approve this message on Facebook and other places, and those ricin-tainted letters were signed that way.

His lawyer had said all along that, you know, it could just mean that somebody was copying what he said and was trying to frame him. And as Curtis left the jailhouse today, he said he was confused from the get-go as to why authorities targeted him.

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS: When you've been charged with something, you've - you just - you never heard of ricin or whatever, I thought they said rice, so I said: I don't even rice.

CORNISH: OK, Debbie. So where's the investigation now?

ELLIOTT: Well, today, as all of this was happening and he was getting out of jail, federal agents were at another house in Mississippi, this one in Tupelo, the house of a man by the name of Everett Dutschke. He is also a musician and a known rival to Curtis. Dutschke, in a telephone interview, told the Associated Press that he did not send the letters. He said, quote, "I'm a patriotic American." But we do know that authorities were there looking for something today. We don't know whether they got anything or not.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott. Debbie, thank you for the update.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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