By Jordy Yager and Daniel Strauss - 04/23/13 10:09 PM EDT
Federal authorities dropped charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, who was arrested last week when he was suspected of sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and a Mississippi judge.
The decision comes a day after authorities failed to find evidence of the poison at his house. Earlier on Tuesday officials canceled the latest hearing in Curtis’s case.
Curtis’s lawyers hold that the 45-year-old man is possibly being framed for using mail to threaten the president, a charge that could have landed him 15 years in jail if convicted.
An FBI agent testified in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi earlier this week that investigators had not found any evidence of ricin or information on how to craft the poison, made from from castor beans, when they searched Curtis’s home and computer.
The charges against Curtis were dismissed “without prejudice,” which leaves the door open for prosecutors to refile the same charges in the future if they decide to.
The letters were mailed between April 8 and April 17, according to the complaint filed against Curtis.
Authorities on Tuesday also revisited the house of a second Mississippi man, Everett Dutschke, asking him about the nature of his relationship to Curtis and whether he would take a lie detector test, according to The Associated Press. Dutschke told the AP that he was innocent and did not send the letters.
Dutschke, 41, is a former Republican candidate for Mississippi’s House of Representatives and a martial arts instructor. Dutschke ran against Sadie Holland, the Lee County judge in Mississippi who received the third letter containing ricin in it earlier this month.
Earlier this year he was sentenced to serve six months in jail for indecent exposure and charged with two counts of child molestation, according to published reports.
Several news organizations are also reporting that Dutschke and Curtis are acquainted.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer, who oversees the upper chamber’s security and was formerly the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, said he was unaware of the most recent legal developments in the Curtis case but that, as is often the case, officials will continue their investigation even after an initial arrest has been made in a case.
“In the criminal justice system, as I have experienced over these 45 years in law enforcement, an arrestee is eligible for bail, including to one’s own recognizance after charging,” Gainer said. “I believe that is the case here.
“At this point, I am not privy to the prosecutorial strategy. The investigation is continuing, again a normal process even when an arrest is made. An arrest seldom ends the investigative process, as is clearly very visible in Boston.”
Records of Curtis’s Facebook access have been entered into the court’s exhibits.
Earlier this month, a posting belonging to Curtis’s Facebook page read, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” The same quote was included in both the letters to Obama and Wicker, according to sworn statements by the FBI and the Secret Service.
Among the other exhibits submitted for Curtis’s case are a letter for the Social Security Administration and “mental papers” filed in Prentiss County, Miss., according to court records.
Letters to Obama and Wicker showed traces of the poison. The letters were intercepted before they reached the intended recipients, but not before putting the Capitol on edge resulting in increased security.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that he didn’t know whether the president had been briefed on Curtis’s release, referring questions to the FBI.
Authorities were initially pointed in Curtis’s direction after speaking with Wicker’s staff, who told them that there was a constituent who communicated frequently with the lawmaker’s office and went by the initials “KC,” which is exactly how the letters containing ricin were signed.
Wicker, speaking to reporters at the Capitol last week, said he knew Curtis from “social events” during his time serving in the House of Representatives.
“Well, he’s an entertainer. He’s an Elvis impersonator,” Wicker said. “He entertained at a party that my wife and I went to. ... My impression is that about that time he had some mental issues, and was perhaps not as stable. A number of couples threw the party ... and we kicked in [money to pay him] I’m sure.”
In 2007, Curtis’s ex-wife reported him to a local Mississippi police department, saying that he was “extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones,” according to the government’s complaint against Curtis.
Updated at 8:37 p.m.