Friday, August 01, 2008

Prosecution target for anthrax attacks commits suicide

Upon learning that he was about to be the target of a prosecution for the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people, U.S. government biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins killed himself on Tuesday with an overdose of Tylenol with codeine.

Ivins became a suspect after it was discovered that he had failed to report anthrax contaminations at his lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in 2002. In late 2008, he was ordered to stay away from a social worker who had counseled him, Jean Duley, who would have testified against him at his trial. In Duley's application for a protective order, she said that Ivins had stalked her and threatened to kill her.

Ivins worked at the same lab where a prior "person of interest" in the case, Stephen Hatfill, also worked. Hatfill was cleared of involvement with the attacks and won a $5.8 million settlement from the Justice Department after he sued for harassment and privacy act violations. Hatfill also won a $10 million libel judgment against Vanity Fair and Reader's Digest for an article by Donald Foster which claimed that Hatfill's writings and travels connected him to the anthrax attacks.

Ivins' attorney claims that he was innocent, but if that were the case, wouldn't his response have been more like Hatfill's? Perhaps, perhaps not. Private investigator and former CNN reporter Pat Clawson, who was also a spokesperson for Hatfill,
said on Friday that news organizations and the public should be “deeply skeptical” about any notion that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax killer unless and until solid evidence is brought forth.

“Everybody is jumping to the conclusion that because this guy committed suicide, he must be the anthrax killer,” Mr. Clawson said. “That is a lousy premise. The pressure of these F.B.I. investigations on individuals is phenomenal, and it is quite likely that this guy cracked under that pressure but had nothing to do with the killings.”

Ivins was a church-going Catholic and a married father of two.

(Hat tip to Greg Laden.)

UPDATE (August 7, 2008): The government's case against Ivins includes tracing the strain of anthrax to his specific lab, the fact that he worked long periods alone in a secure lab that housed that strain and could not account for his activity, that when asked to provide spores from his laboratory to investigators he gave them different spores and then lied about it, that he sent an email to an associate after 9/11 saying that terrorists have "anthrax and sarin gas" and have "decreed death to all Jews and Americans," language similar to statements in threatening letters included in the mailed anthrax envelopes. All of the spores used in the anthrax attacks came from a single flask in Ivins' lab, RMR-1029. That's probably the most conclusive evidence that Ivins was behind the attacks.

Apparently Ivins also engaged in an "edit war" on the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority's Wikipedia page, repeatedly posting negative information there, and thought that the group had declared a "fatwah" on him. (Via The Agitator.)

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