April 29, 2013 / 10:05 AM / 5 years ago

Mississippi man makes court appearance in ricin letters case

TUPELO, Mississippi (Reuters) - A Mississippi martial arts instructor appeared in federal court on Monday to face charges in connection with mailing letters containing the deadly poison ricin to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials.

Everett Dutschke, 41, was arrested on Saturday in Tupelo, Mississippi, after authorities searched his former business and home. He is charged with developing and possessing ricin and attempting to use it as a weapon.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Dutschke responded briefly to a judge’s questions at the hearing in Oxford, Mississippi, on whether he understood the charges against him. The judge ordered a preliminary hearing be held on Thursday when prosecutors will present more detailed evidence in the case.

An indictment detailing the charges is under seal but could be made public later on Monday, said George Lucas, Dutschke’s court appointed attorney.

Dutschke has denied having any involvement with the ricin letters and said he cooperated with federal officials during their searches.

He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Dutschke’s arrest came nearly two weeks after suspicious letters intended for Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi were intercepted in Washington. Tests showed they were tainted with ricin, a highly lethal poison made from castor beans. A separate ricin-lased letter was also sent to a Mississippi judge.

Authorities initially arrested another Mississippi man, Kevin Curtis, in the case but dropped the charges last week after a search of his house failed to turn up any evidence of his involvement.

Dutschke’s name surfaced at a court hearing when Curtis’ attorney suggested someone framed her client and mentioned a running feud between the two men.

He also faces charges in a separate case related to an April 1 indictment for fondling three children between ages 7 and 16, from 2007 to 2013, according to court records.

The ricin-tainted letters were discovered just days after the bombings of the Boston Marathon and during the massive police manhunt for those responsible, helping to fuel anxiety in the United States, especially in the capital.

The case rekindled memories of the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks that killed five people and puzzled investigators for years. The Justice Department later said that a U.S. scientist who committed suicide was responsible.

Additional reporting by Kevin Gray in Miami.; Editing by David Adams and Andrew Hay

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