Criminal Justice

Ex-prosecutor recalls screaming fit by ricin suspect; family cites history of mental illness

A lawyer for the man accused of sending letters containing suspected ricin to President Obama, a judge and a U.S. senator says her client maintains his innocence.

The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, said little during a court hearing on Thursday and did not enter a plea, the Associated Press reports. After the hearing, Curtis’ lawyer, Christi McCoy, said her client was surprised by the arrest and “maintains 100 percent that he did not do this.”

The three letters were all signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.” The FBI confirmed the letters contained ricin on Thursday evening, according to a separate Associated Press story and CNN. Additional tests are being conducted. The agency said it was not aware of any illness contracted by those who had contact with the letters.

Family members said Curtis, an Elvis impersonator, suffered from mental illness, according to AP. In online claims, he told of discovering body parts in a morgue refrigerator while working as a janitor at a hospital. He suspected illegal organ harvesting and tried to enlist public officials in his campaign to publicize what he viewed as an elaborate conspiracy. One of the people he wrote was U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican. Wicker also received a ricin letter, officials said.

Another official receiving a ricin letter was Judge Sadie Holland of Lee County, Miss. She sentenced Curtis to six months in jail in an assault case several years ago, AP says. It was filed by an assistant district attorney who says Curtis approached him in his car and threatened him with a beer bottle during a rant about body parts being sold.

Now a lawyer in Tupelo, former prosecutor David Daniels told AP that the incident occurred about 10 years ago after rehearsal for a show organized by Daniels in which Curtis had appeared. Daniels recalls sitting in his vehicle when Curtis approached. “He started beating on the windows and screaming and hollering” about body parts being sold, Daniels told AP. “He was throwing a fit like I’ve never seen a grown man throw before.”

Daniels said he pulled a gun on Curtis and told him he would shoot him if Curtis tried to hit him with the beer bottle. After Curtis’ conviction, Daniels says, “He launched a smear campaign against me, saying I attacked him and tried to shoot him.”

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