Web of small town intrigue envelops Mississippi ricin case
OXFORD, Mississippi (CNN) — Was it a tiff between an Elvis impersonator and a martial arts instructor in the birthplace of the King that caused headlines around the world?
We may find out Monday when a former tae kwon do instructor from Tupelo, Mississippi, appears in court, accused of sending ricin-tainted letters to President Barack Obama and others.
James Everett Dutschke, 41, has been charged with possession and use of a biological agent as a weapon in connection with the investigation. He had denied the allegations.
His arrest last week was just the latest head-scratching twist in a tale of small-town intrigue, interconnected relationships and calculated moves targeting public officials.
Before police settled on Dutschke as a suspect, they took into custody a Corinth, Mississippi, man named Paul Kevin Curtis — who makes his living impersonating Elvis, Buddy Holly and Randy Travis.
Curtis vehemently denied sending the letters, and said he was framed — and identified Dutschke as a potential culprit.
Before delving into how the two are tied, let’s meet the other characters in this whodunit.
They would be Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Sadie Holland, a judge in Lee County — the two lawmakers who received the letters in addition to Obama.
The ties that bind
Dutschke used to work for Curtis’ brother at an insurance company, under the direction of Curtis’ ex-wife.
Curtis has said that while Dutschke worked for his brother, the two talked about collaborating on the publication of a book but later had a falling out.
He has accused Dutschke of stalking him online, a claim the latter has denied.
In an April 22 court hearing before the charges were dropped, Curtis said he was being framed and identified Dutschke as a potential culprit.
Dutschke told reporters last week that he did not know Curtis well.
“He’s just a little nutty,” he said. “I don’t have a relationship with him.”
The ties that bind II
So where do the lawmakers fit in?
Dutschke can be linked to Sadie Holland through her son, Democratic state representative Steve Holland.
Dutschke failed in a bid as a Republican to unseat the younger Holland.
As for Curtis, Sadie Holland presided over a 2004 assault hearing involving Curtis, who says he has been in jail “over 20 times,” but never convicted.
And Sen. Roger Wicker?
Dutschke said he once met Wicker.
Suspect No. 1
The letters — sent to Obama, Wicker and Holland — arrived April 16 and touched off anxieties in Washington and elsewhere in the wake of the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The two incidents were unconnected, officials said.
The letters read, in part: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.”
They were signed “I am KC and I approve this message,” a source told CNN.
Each letter had a Memphis, Tennessee, postmark and no return address.
The very next day, authorities arrested Curtis.
His attorney, Christi McCoy, said he’d been framed by someone who used several phrases Curtis likes to use on social media.
The FBI said the letters tested positive for ricin, a toxin derived from castor beans that has no known antidote.
The very next week, authorities dropped the charges against Curtis after they said they had new information.
“I think now, how many people are thrown in jail because of circumstantial evidence and someone can frame you that easily,” he told CNN last week after being cleared.
Suspect No. 2
The feds then turned their attention to Dutschke.
Agents searched his residence and former martial arts studio. Dutschke told CNN affiliate WMC-TV that he agreed to the FBI search “to help clear my name.”
“I had absolutely nothing to do with those letters,” he said.
Early Saturday, he was arrested without incident at home. He was charged with possession and use of a biological agent as a weapon in connection with the letters.
This isn’t his only brush with the law.
Dutschke faces molestation charges in an unrelated case.
According to a grand jury indictment handed up this month and obtained by CNN, Dutschke is accused of molesting three girls under the age of 16. He has repeatedly denied the charges in interviews with local media and pleaded not guilty in court this month.
Dutschke closed his tae kwon do studio after the allegations were made public.
Dutschke was previously convicted on indecent exposure charges in another case and sentenced to 90 days in jail.
A song in his heart
As for Curtis, he told CNN he’s “just glad it’s over.”
When he learned Dutschke had been arrested, he took a deep breath and felt like “a weight had been taken off.”
“I just want to return to my kids and my music,” Curtis said.
During another interview with CNN last week, he said the public attention could “thrust him into the limelight.”
And then, at the urging of reporter Chris Cuomo, he burst into song.
A rousing rendition of Randy Travis’ “On the Other Hand.”