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U.S. drops charges against ricin letter suspect

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

TUPELO, Miss. — Charges were dropped on Tuesday against the Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama and others, while authorities searched another man's home in connection with the case.

The surprising move was announced in a brief document filed in federal court in Oxford hours after Paul Kevin Curtis was released from custody. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means they could be reinstated if prosecutors so choose.

Attorneys for Curtis have suggested he was framed, and an FBI agent testified in court this week that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of his home. At a news conference, they declined to discuss whether they were told what information the government had uncovered.

“I respect President Obama,” Curtis said. “I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official.”

Prosecutors couldn't be reached for comment.

In Tupelo, numerous law enforcement officers converged on the home of another Mississippi man, including some in hazmat suits.

Everett Dutschke said that the FBI was at his Tupelo home on Tuesday for the search connected to the mailing of poisoned letters to Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and a state judge. Dutschke said his house was searched last week.

Dutschke has maintained his innocence and says he doesn't know anything about the ingredients for ricin. He said agents asked him about Curtis, whether Dutschke would take a lie detector test and if he had bought castor beans, which can be used to make the potent poison.

“I'm a patriotic American. I don't have any grudges against anybody. I did not send the letters,” said Dutschke, who hasn't been arrested or charged.

When charges were dropped against Curtis, he said: “I'm a little shocked.”

The events began when the third day of a preliminary and detention hearing was canceled without officials explaining the change. Within two hours, Curtis had been released, though it wasn't clear why at first.

Through his lawyers, Curtis has denied involvement in the letters.

“The searches are concluded, not one single shred of evidence was found to indicate Kevin could have done this,” Defense lawyer Christi McCoy told reporters after a hearing Monday.

McCoy said in court that someone may have framed Curtis. She questioned why Curtis would have signed the letters “I am KC and I approve this message,” a phrase he had used on his Facebook page.

Later, at the news conference, Curtis said the past week had been a nightmare for his family.

Referring to questioning by investigators, Curtis said: “I thought they said rice, and I said ‘I don't even eat rice.'” FBI Agent Brandon Grant said in court on Monday that searches last week of Curtis' vehicle and house in Corinth, Miss., found no ricin, ingredients for the poison, or devices used to make it. A search of Curtis' computers found no evidence he researched making ricin. Authorities produced no other physical evidence at the hearings tying Curtis to the letters.

Curtis was arrested last Wednesday at his house in Corinth, Miss. The first of the letters was found two days earlier.

Grant testified on Friday that authorities tried to track down the sender of the letters by using a list of Wicker's constituents with the initials KC, the same initials in the letters. Grant said the list was whittled from thousands to about 100 when investigators isolated the ones who lived in an area that would have a Memphis, Tenn., postmark, which includes many places in north Mississippi. He said Wicker's staff recognized Curtis as someone who had written the senator before.

The envelopes and stamps were self-adhesive, Grant said Monday, meaning they won't yield DNA evidence.

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