OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi man charged with sending ricin-laced letters to the president and other officials was described Thursday as a good father, a quiet neighbor and an entertainer who impersonated Elvis at parties. Other accounts show a man who spiraled into emotional turmoil trying to get attention for his claims of uncovering a conspiracy to sell body parts on the black market.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, wrote numerous Web posts over the past several years describing the event that he said "changed my life forever": the chance discovery of body parts and organs wrapped in plastic in small refrigerator at a hospital where he worked as a janitor more than a decade ago.
He tried to talk to officials and get the word out online, but he thought he was being railroaded by the government. Authorities say the efforts culminated in letters sent to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and a judge in Mississippi. "Maybe I have your attention now even if that means someone must die," the letters read, according to an FBI affidavit.
"He is bipolar, and the only thing I can say is he wasn't on his medicine," his ex-wife, Laura Curtis, told The Associated Press.
Jim Waide, an attorney for the Curtis family, said Paul Kevin Curtis was prescribed medication three years ago. "When he is on his medication, he is terrific, he's nice, he's functional," Waide said. "When he's off his medication, that's when there's a problem."
Waide represented Curtis in a lawsuit he filed in August 2000 against North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where he had worked from 1998 until he was fired in 2000. Waide said he withdrew from the case because Curtis didn't trust him. The suit, claiming employment discrimination, was dismissed.
"He thought I was conspiring against him," Waide said. "He thinks everybody is out to get him."
Curtis made a brief court appearance Thursday, wearing shackles and a Johnny Cash T-shirt. Attorney Christi R. McCoy said he "maintains 100 percent" that he is innocent. He did not enter pleas to the two federal charges against him. He is due back in court Friday afternoon.
In several letters to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, and other officials, Curtis said he was writing a novel about black-market body parts called "Missing Pieces."
Curtis also posted similar language on his Facebook page. The documents indicate Curtis had been distrustful of the government for years. In 2007, Curtis' ex-wife called police in Booneville to report that her husband was extremely delusional, anti-government and felt the government was spying on him with drones.
Laura Curtis said that she doesn't believe the allegations about her ex-husband. "He just likes to speak out," she said.
"What they say he did is so unlike him, it's unreal," she added. "Until I hear him say he did it, I would not, ... I could not believe it."
During their 10-year marriage, the couple lived in Booneville in north Mississippi. Curtis said she moved to a house next door after the split. Her ex-husband moved to Birmingham but eventually back to Mississippi, most recently the small town of Corinth, where he was arrested Wednesday. Laura Curtis said he would visit their four children — ages, 8, 16, 18 and 20 — almost every day. He recently bought his youngest child a bicycle
But others say Curtis' behavior was often erratic.
Tupelo attorney David Daniels said Curtis was in a show he helped organize about 10 years ago.
Daniels said was sitting in his vehicle one night after rehearsal when Curtis walked up. "He started beating on the windows and screaming and hollering," Daniels said. "I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. He was throwing a fit like I've never seen a grown man throw before."
Daniels said Curtis was holding a beer bottle and threatening him with it. Daniels said he pointed the pistol he kept in his car: "I told him, 'If you try to hit me with that bottle, Kevin, I'm going to shoot you.'"