TUPELO, Miss. - Charges were dropped Tuesday against the Mississippi man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and others while authorities searched at another man's home in connection with the case.
The surprising move was announced in a brief document filed in federal court in Oxford hours after Paul Kevin Curtis was released from custody. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means they could be re-instated if prosecutors so choose.
Attorneys for Curtis have suggested he was framed, and an FBI agent testified in court this week that no evidence of ricin was found in searches of his home. At a news conference Tuesday, they declined to discuss whether they were told what new information the government had uncovered.
"I respect President Obama," Curtis said to reporters. "I love my country and would never do anything to pose a threat to him or any other U.S. official."
Prosecutors couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
In Tupelo, numerous law enforcement officers converged on the home of another Mississippi man, including some in hazmat suits.
Everett Dutschke said in a phone interview that the FBI was at his Tupelo home Tuesday for the search connected to the mailing of poisoned letters to Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and a state judge. Dutschke said his house was also searched last week.
Dutschke has maintained his innocence and says he doesn't know anything about the ingredients for ricin. He said agents asked him about Curtis, whether Dutschke would take a lie detector test and if he had ever bought castor beans, which can be used to make the potent poison.
"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.
After charges were dropped against Curtis, he said: "I'm a little shocked."
Tuesday's events began when the third day of a preliminary and detention hearing was cancelled without officials explaining the change. Within two hours, Curtis had been released, though it wasn't clear why at first.
Through his lawyers, Curtis has denied involvement in the letters.