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Feds: Scientist Acted Alone In Anthrax Attacks

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The huge federal investigation into the anthrax killings is expected to be closed in a matter of days. Today, a judge unsealed evidence that portrays the scientist, Bruce Ivins, as struggling with serious mental illness in 2001. That's when the government believes Ivins sent anthrax through the mail, killing five people.

Ivins committed suicide last week, so there will be no trial. Now the FBI is presenting its case to the public to prove that it's got the right man, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: This afternoon's press conference was opening statement and closing argument all in one. Jeffrey Taylor is the US Attorney for Washington, D.C.

Mr. JEFFREY TAYLOR (U.S. Attorney, District of Columbia, Washington, D.C.): We believed that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond reasonable doubt. Based upon the totality of the evidence we had gathered against him, we are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks.

SHAPIRO: Taylor said a new scientific development led investigators to conclude that Ivins was one of the few people with access to the specific flask of anthrax used in the attacks.

Mr. TAYLOR: We thoroughly investigated every other person who could've had access to the flask and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins.

SHAPIRO: Taylor said Ivins was unable to explain why he worked late nights and weekends in the days before the anthrax mailings.

Mr. TAYLOR: A review of his access records revealed that Dr. Ivins had not spent this many off-hours in the lab at any time before or after this period.

SHAPIRO: And he was struggling with mental illness during the same period. In December of 2001, Ivins e-mailed a friend three poems. One of them read, I'm a little dream self short and stout. I'm the other half of Bruce when he lets me out. When I get all steamed up, I don't pout; I push Bruce aside then I'm free to run about.

A few months earlier, Ivins wrote, I get incredible paranoid delusional thoughts at times and there's nothing I can do until they go away. In another e-mail, he described the feeling as being eaten alive inside. The documents also showed that Ivins was obsessed with a sorority called Kappa Kappa Gamma. In a message Ivins posted online under a pseudonym last year, he boasted, at one time in my life, I knew more about KKG than any non-Kappa that had ever lived. Some of the anthrax letters were sent from a mailbox just down the block from the Princeton chapter of the sorority.

Today, U.S. Attorney Taylor said...

Mr. TAYLOR: Throughout his adult life, Dr. Ivins had frequently driven to other locations to send packages in the mail under assumed names to disguise his identity as the sender.

SHAPIRO: Taylor said Ivins tried to mislead investigators by giving them false anthrax samples from his lab early in the investigation. In one e-mail to a friend, Ivins wrote that bin Laden, quote, "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans." That's similar to the language in the anthrax letters. In searches of the Ivins home, the FBI took 68 letters to members of Congress and the media along with handguns and ammunition. Taylor said some of the evidence may be circumstantial, but it's compelling.

Mr. TAYLOR: Thousands of prosecutors in thousands of courthouses across this country every day prove cases beyond reasonable doubt using circumstantial evidence.

SHAPIRO: Taylor said it appears that Ivins was acting alone. Before the public briefing, FBI Director Robert Mueller briefed victims and their family members in private. Patrick O'Donnell is a postal worker from Levittown, Pennsylvania who attended that meeting. We reached him on a cell phone right after the briefing, and he said he was persuaded.

Mr. PATRICK O'DONNELL (Postal Worker, Levittown, Pennsylvania): I mean, I was very, very skeptical when I walked in there and when I walked out, I was kind of, I mean, I'm probably 99 percent sure that they had the right guy.

SHAPIRO: The lawyer for Ivins, Paul Kemp, maintains that his client was innocent. He spoke on the record but not on tape and said, the idea that anyone could say they could convict someone with what they have is stunning. They have nothing. Kemp added, there was not a single piece of evidence produced from all those search warrants and all those affidavits. He was a weird, bookish, nerdy kind of man, Kemp said, but he didn't do it.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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