The week of April 15th was fully packed with news stories. The Tsarnev brothers’ terror-filled rampage dominated every media outlet, meanwhile several people died and over a hundred were injured at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Smothered out by those heavyweight stories, was a ricin scare, in which poison laced letters were mailed to several politicians around the country. One of which was President Obama. During any normal week, that would be the number one story, but obviously it was overwhelmed by the situation in Boston. Initially there were fears that there were all connected in some elaborate terror plot, but that was quickly dismissed.
One of the most unfortunate developments of the ricin scare was that the person the authorities originally arrested was not the correct person. Even worse, the feds knew this and still kept him locked up anyway.
Often times serious situations require a liberal interpretation of legality, and individual rights often get pushed to the side as overarching safety concerns take precedence. Still, when moments like this happen and the information is made available to the public, it given credence to conspiracy theorists and anti-government constituencies.
“They wanted to keep Mr. Curtis in custody while they built a case,” said Hal Neilson, a former FBI agent who is Curtis’s attorney. “They knew early on he wasn’t the right guy, but they fought to hold on to him anyway.”
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford, Miss., did not respond to requests for interviews or to written questions.
An official with the federal court, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Neilson’s characterization of the prosecutor’s request for a psychiatric examination and for a postponement were accurate and that they were viewed by the court as unnecessary delays.
Curtis was arrested April 17 after coming to the attention of federal investigators. The ricin-laced letters had closed with the sentence “I am KC and I approve this message” — language very similar to that in letters Curtis previously had written to public officials. Phrases in the ricin letters also matched those on Curtis’s Facebook page.
Investigators had no other evidence against him, according to the FBI affidavit and court testimony. At a hearing a week later, after prosecutors unsuccessfully asked to keep him under house arrest and again tried to postpone the hearing, Curtis was released and charges of threatening the president and other elected officials by mailing ricin-laced letters were dropped.