April 19, 2013

Portrait of ricin suspect takes shape

Paul Kevin Curtis, accused of mailing poison-laced letters, seemed 'very paranoid,' a local sheriff says.

By AARON C. DAVIS and STEPHANIE McCRUMMEN The Washington Post

CORINTH, Miss. - The Mississippi man charged with threatening the lives of President Obama, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi judge by mailing them poison-laced letters had grandiose ambitions as an Elvis impersonator, believed that government drones were spying on him and harbored conspiracy theories about black-market trafficking in human body parts, according to court documents and people who know him.

click image to enlarge

This undated photo from the Facebook page of Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, shows the suspect charged with threatening President Obama, a senator and a Mississippi judge. Curtis was arrested Wednesday at his home in Corinth, Miss., near the Tennessee state line.

The Associated Press

Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, who appeared Thursday in an Oxford, Miss., courtroom wearing shackles and a Johnny Cash T-shirt, has not entered a plea on the charges. His attorney, Christi R. McCoy, said that Curtis "maintains 100 percent that he did not do this."

"I know Kevin, I know his family," McCoy said, according to the Associated Press. "This is a huge shock."

Others who've known Curtis were less surprised, however, saying that his long, detailed Internet diatribes and erratic behavior were the signs of a mental illness that he has struggled with for years, one that left him at times delusional, narcissistic, paranoid and dangerously unpredictable when he was not taking his medication.

"When he's on his medication, he is delightful, charming, likable," said Jim Waide, a family acquaintance who briefly represented Curtis in a lawsuit a decade ago. "When he's off his medication, he is paranoid and thinks people are out to get him."

Curtis's father, Jack Curtis, 74, said that his son "does have some bipolar issues, but he don't have a violent streak in him whatsoever. That's why it's so hard for us to believe he put ricin in a letter to anybody, let alone the president."

"He didn't put no ricin in it, hell, he wouldn't know where to get it," said the elder Curtis, adding that his son does write to lawmakers and inherited his father's outspoken streak.

Curtis allegedly mailed three identical letters laced with the poison ricin on April 8 to the White House, the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and a local judge in Tupelo, Miss. who had once handled an assault case against Curtis.

The letters alluded to Curtis' novel-in-progress, called "Missing Pieces," in which he sought to espouse his long-held conspiracy theory about underground trafficking in human body parts.

"No one wanted to listen to me before," read the letters, according to an FBI affidavit. "There are still 'Missing Pieces' Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die. ... I am KC and I approve this message."

In an online profile, Curtis called himself a "Father/Activist/Singer/Songwriter/Business Owner/Rebel." He described working as a celebrity impersonator along the Mississippi-Tennessee border, often performing as Elvis Presley.

"He was quite entertaining," Wicker said Thursday, recounting the time a decade ago he hired Curtis to perform as Elvis at an engagement party. "My impression is that since that time, he's had mental issues and perhaps is not as stable as he was back then."

Court records show that Curtis has been arrested four times since 2000 in Prentiss County, where he lived most of the past two decades, and where charges against him have included cyber-harassment.

"I've been dealing on or off with him, or been made aware of his bizarre behavior, pretty much ever since I became sheriff," said Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar, adding that Curtis sometimes lashed out at him in online forums. "He just seemed to be a very paranoid person."

David Daniels, a former assistant district attorney, said that he got into a confrontation with Curtis around 2004 at an Elvis impersonator festival in Tupelo, Presley's birthplace, when Curtis accused him of leering at his ex-wife. After a rehearsal one night, Daniels said that Curtis started beating on the windows of his truck, "screaming and hollering and carrying on."

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