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Mississippi ricin case: Man withdraws guilty plea, blames fake Elvis

Justice SystemPaul Kevin CurtisRicin Mail Attacks (2013, Mississippi)
Mississippi ricin saga adds another odd twist: Taekwondo teacher blames Elvis (again)

Pleading not guilty usually works better when you haven't already pleaded guilty. Then again, normalcy has yet to visit the Mississippi ricin saga.

In a federal court Tuesday, one of America's weirdest continuing criminal cases added another bizarre chapter when a Tupelo taekwondo instructor changed his mind about his guilt and again blamed an Elvis impersonator with trying to poison the president.

James Everett Dutschke (he's the taekwondo instructor) has been accused of making ricin -- a poison derived from castor beans -- and mailing the deadly material to several public officials with letters impersonating a longtime nemesis. Dutschke, 42, pleaded guilty in a January plea deal.

But in a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Dutschke apparently had a dramatic change of heart and asked a federal judge to withdraw his guilty plea. The prosecutor and defense attorney handling the case did not respond to messages confirming what was said in open court.

But according to a Clarion-Ledger reporter at the hearing, Dutschke:

  • Compared his rival, Paul Kevin Curtis (the Elvis impersonator) to Barney the dinosaur and compared himself to an Olympic gymnast.
  • Said he would eat the contents of the ricin letters in a peanut-butter sandwich to prove the material wasn't dangerous.
  • Said no DNA evidence linked him to the crime and that his prosecution was a government conspiracy.
  • Accused Curtis, once again, of being the true poison mailer.

The case had an unusual beginning when federal agents originally arrested Curtis in April 2013 on suspicion of mailing the letters.

Officials dropped their case against him a few days later and instead arrested Dutschke, who at one point had waved hello at a surveillance team outside his house before briefly vanishing.

Dutschke continued to cook up trouble behind bars when he tried to recruit someone to send more poison letters imitating Curtis' bizarre writings that alleges a government conspiracy involving organ donations, officials said.

Dutschke had been expected to receive 25 years in prison in his plea deal. The judge instead decided not to sentence Dutschke, who said he would formally file to withdraw his guilty plea.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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