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8:42 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Suspect Denies Putting Ricin In Letter To Obama, Others

Originally published on Fri May 3, 2013 2:36 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're keeping track of all the different stories in an amazing week of news, including the manhunt in Boston overnight. We'll have an update on that shortly again. And also this. The man charged with mailing letters containing poison to the president and a U.S. senator, along with a judge, appeared yesterday in court in Mississippi in shackles and wearing a Johnny Cash t-shirt. His lawyer said Kevin Curtis denies he put ricin in those letters. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports on new details in the case.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Kevin Curtis was an entertainer, a sometime impersonator of Elvis Presley. In a YouTube video, Curtis, in a gold lame jacket, sings at a school dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

KEVIN CURTIS: (singing) Well I want somebody to love. And baby it's you I'm thinking of. Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: One of the people Curtis performed for was the very U.S. senator he is now accused of targeting with a toxic letter. Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker told reporters that Curtis once did his Elvis show at a party that the senator and his wife hosted for a young couple that was getting married. Wicker said he also knew Curtis as someone who struggled with mental illness.

That also came out in the newly released affidavit from federal investigators. The affidavit says local police in Booneville, Mississippi had investigated Curtis several times since 2007 and his ex-wife told police Curtis thought the government was spying on him with drones.

CHRIS TRUITT: He's a delusional gentleman. That's the best way to put it.

SHAPIRO: Chris Truitt came across Curtis on a message board in 2009. Curtis told Truitt that while working at a hospital at night as a cleaner, he'd opened a refrigerator in the hospital morgue and found cut-up organs and body parts. Truitt, who once worked for an organ donation program, told Curtis that's normal for a morgue.

But Curtis got angry. He said he'd uncovered an illegal plot to sell body parts. That was the start of his complaint against government: That it ignored his warning. The arrest affidavit reveals the letters that tested for ricin all had the same language. No one wanted to listen to me before, the letters said. Maybe I have your attention now. Even if that means someone must die. This must stop. In the end, it was those words that led police to Curtis.

TERRANCE GAINER: I thought they were pretty enterprising, taking those words, running them against such things as a variety of social media.

SHAPIRO: Terrance Gainer, the sergeant at arms for the U.S. Senate, says many law enforcement agencies worked together, but that the U.S. Capitol Police did the first tracing.

GAINER: To see if the words he had used, about, you know, to see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner. Or I am K.C. and I approve this message.

SHAPIRO: It turned out Curtis had used those same phrases on his Facebook page and many times in the past. The investigators' affidavit says initial field tests showed the letters to President Obama and Senator Wicker both tested positive for the toxin ricin. Gainer says the FBI and the Secret Service are conducting more tests on the granular material found in the letters.

GAINER: I don't think any of the lab people will disagree that this was ricin. I think some of the other tests may help you pinpoint the source of it, whether it was weaponized and how detailed the work had been done on it. But, you know, ricin is ricin and a little bit or a lot can be deadly.

SHAPIRO: In court, his attorney said Curtis, quote, maintains 100 percent that he did not do this. If convicted, Curtis faces up to 15 years in prison. Joe Shapiro, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.