Oxford, Miss. • The investigation into poisoned letters mailed to President Barack Obama and others has shifted from an Elvis impersonator to his longtime foe, and authorities must now figure out if an online feud between the two men might have escalated into something more sinister.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was released from a north Mississippi jail on Tuesday and charges against him were dropped, nearly a week after authorities charged him with sending ricin-laced letters to the president, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and an 80-year-old Lee County, Miss., Justice Court judge, Sadie Holland.
Before Curtis left jail, authorities had already descended on the home of 41-year-old Everett Dutschke in Tupelo, a northeast Mississippi town best known as the birthplace of the King himself. On Wednesday, they searched the site of a Tupelo martial arts studio once operated by Dutschke, who hasn’t been arrested or charged.
Curtis, who performs as Elvis and other celebrities, describes a bizarre, yearslong feud between the two, but Dutschke insists he had nothing to do with the letters. They contained language identical to that found on Curtis’ Facebook page and other websites, making him an early suspect.
Federal authorities have not said what led them to drop the charges against Curtis, and his lawyers say they’re not sure what new evidence the FBI has found.
On Wednesday, dozens of investigators were searching at a small retail space where neighboring business owners said Dutschke used to operate a martial arts studio. Officers at the scene wouldn’t comment on what they were doing.
Investigators in gas masks, gloves and plastic suits emerged from the business carrying five-gallon buckets full of items covered in large plastic bags. Once outside, others started spraying their protective suits with some sort of mist.
Dutschke was seen outside the studio observing the search Wednesday. His attorney, Lori Nail Basham, said Dutschke is "cooperating fully" with investigators and that as of Wednesday afternoon no arrest warrant had been issued.
Both men say they have met Wicker, and they each have a connection to Holland.
Authorities say the letters were mailed April 8, but the one sent to Holland was the only one to make it into the hands of an intended target. Her son, Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, said his mother did a "smell test" of the envelope and a substance in it irritated her nose. The judge was not sickened by what authorities say was a crude form of the poison, which is derived from castor beans.
Sadie Holland has declined to comment on the case.
She was presiding judge in a case in which Curtis was accused of assaulting a Tupelo attorney in 2003. Holland sentenced Curtis to six months in the county jail. He served only part of the sentence, according to his brother.
Running as a Republican, Dutschke lost a lopsided election to Steve Holland in 2007, and observers say the judge publicly chastised Dutschke at a political rally that year.
Brandon Presley, Mississippi’s northern district public service commissioner and a distant cousin of Elvis Presley, attended the 2007 political rally in Verona. He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he remembers Dutschke giving a "militant" speech with personal and professional attacks Steve Holland.
Presley, also a Democrat, said he doesn’t recall details of the speech — just the tone of it, and the crowd’s reaction.
"I just remember everybody’s jaw dropping," Presley said.
Dutschke, who ran as a Republican, said his speech included sharp criticism of Steve Holland’s record in public office.
Steve Holland said earlier this week that his mother made Dutschke get down on his knees at the 2007 rally and apologize. On Wednesday, he said he was mistaken about her telling Dutschke to kneel.
"She just got up and said ‘Sir, you will apologize," Steve Holland said.
Dutschke said Steve Holland exaggerated the incident. Presley said he remembers Sadie Holland chastising Dutschke.
Presley said of Sadie Holland: "I don’t believe the woman has an enemy in the world.... I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love Ms. Sadie Holland, except whoever this fool is who sent the letter. Whoever it is, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, picking on Ms. Sadie."Next Page >
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