Phoenix man indicted in ricin case

Associated Press Mar. 1, 2006 05:46 PM

A man arrested last year for possessing explosives and illegal silencers has been indicted on charges of attempting to produce a biological weapon.

Authorities found a large amount of castor bean plants, which can be used to make ricin, in the Phoenix apartment of 58-year-old Denys Ray Hughes in July.

Ricin is a poisonous protein that can be used as a biological weapon. As little as 500 micrograms of the protein, roughly the amount that fits on the head of a pin, is enough to kill an adult, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. advertisement

"It was clear that we interrupted an individual that was infatuated and experimented with dangerous toxins and explosive weapons," said Tom Mangan, special agent and spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"And we interrupted him at an early stage," he said.

Authorities believe Hughes is not a member of a terrorist organization, and that he was working alone, he said.

Additionally, no evidence points to specific plans of attack, he said, adding that authorities still don't know why Hughes would have been attempting to make the biological weapon.

"As to his intent, we still have a lot of unanswered questions," the ATF agent said. "A lot of that will be brought out during the course of trial."

A federal grand jury handed up the indictment against Hughes in February, but the information didn't become public until Wednesday, when Hughes pleaded not guilty to the charge in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. He also faces illegal weapons and explosives charges.

Authorities became aware of Hughes in July after being tipped off by Kansas authorities who had pulled him over for a traffic violation.

A sheriff's deputy in Russell County, Kansas found evidence of bomb-making materials and a "to-do" list that included "buying cannon fuse, finding secure storage, building a reinforced bunker," and moving "survival items such as food, lanterns, supplies and weapons," according to court documents.

Hughes told the deputy he could be considered a survivalist or a militiaman.

Four days later, authorities searched Hughes' cabin in Manitowish Waters, Wis.

Mangan said they found formulas for producing ricin, six bottles of castor beans, and dimethyl sulfide, a solvent that can penetrate the skin and has been combined with ricin in other incidents.

Authorities also found 42 biological and chemical samples and an arsenal of weapons hidden behind the cabin's walls. The weaponry, wrapped in plastic and foil, included pistols, high-powered rifles, ammunition, and artillery shells, Mangan said.

Also found were three books covering topics of chemicals, poisons, explosives, survivability and ammunition.

When officials searched Hughes' Phoenix apartment of 16 years the next day, they found about 20 castor bean plants growing between 15 and 20 feet tall, Mangan said.

They also found four unregistered weapon silencers, two pipe bombs, more chemicals and two Gila monsters, a poisonous lizard. Authorities seized the items, along with the hard drive of Hughes' computer, which has been examined for Internet searches on how to make ricin.

Mangan would not specify what was found on the computer.

Although the search took place in July, officials did not release information about the castor bean plants until Wednesday because they wanted to be prudent, Mangan said.

"We wanted to bring forth a charge that is going to be concrete and that is going to stick," he said.

He also cited recent false ricin alarms, such as the case at a University of Texas dormitory last week. An initial test showed a powdery substance found by a student was ricin.

After much publicity, it was later found the substance was not the biological weapon.

He added that at no time were Hughes' neighbors in Manitowish Waters or Phoenix in danger.

Prosecutors will use evidence found in both of Hughes' residences to prove their case, he said.

Hughes' attorney, Deborah Euler-Ajayi, would not comment on the case after Hughes' court appearance Wednesday.

In July, Hughes' then attorney described the man as a loner and hard-worker who does not want to bother anyone or be bothered.

"In the time that I have been dealing with him, he strikes me as a real nice, gentle guy," said Mike Lieberman, a federal public defender in Madison, Wis. "Sometimes circumstances look bad but the more light that is shed on this, I think it is all going to be cleared up."

Hughes faces life in prison on the biological weapon charge, and an additional 20 years for each of the four silencers and each of the two pipe bombs authorities found.

His trial is set for May in Phoenix.


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