Therese Apel and William M. Welch
Federal charges were dropped Tuesday against a Mississippi man accused of mailing letters laced with potentially poisonous ricin to President Obama and other officials, and investigators immediately searched the home of a second man.
Paul Kevin Curtis, an entertainer and Elvis impersonator, walked free after being released from federal custody. He denied any involvement in mailing the tainted letters.
"I respect President Obama. I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official," Curtis said.
Curtis' attorney, Christi McCoy, said in court that someone may have framed her client. An FBI agent testified that no evidence of ricin was found in a search of his home.
Curtis said the case had been "a nightmare" for his family and insisted he knew nothing about the letters.
Law enforcement officers, some wearing suits to protect themselves from hazardous materials, converged on the Tupelo, Miss., home of Everett Dutschke, who told The Clarion-Ledger that he consented to the search.
Dutschke, 41, insisted he knew nothing of the case and accused Curtis' defense lawyers of pointing a finger at him.
"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.
Dutschke's attorney, Lori Basham, said her client has cooperated with investigators.
Curtis was released hours after a third day of a preliminary hearing was canceled without official explanation. U.S. Magistrate Judge Allan Alexander issued the dismissal order.
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.
Curtis was arrested last Wednesday at his home, two days after the first letter was found. Letters also were sent to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and a state judge.
McCoy, Curtis' attorney, questioned why he would have signed the letters, "I am KC and I approve this message," a phrase he had used on the Internet. "Not one single shred of evidence was found to indicate Kevin could have done this," she said.
Grant testified Friday that authorities tried to track down the sender by using a list of Wicker's constituents with the initials K.C. He said Wicker's staff recognized Curtis as someone who had written the senator before.
Dutschke said that he knows Curtis but that the two had a falling out. Dutschke said their last contact was in 2010 when Dutschke threatened to sue Curtis for saying he was a member of Mensa, a group for people with high IQs.