Updated Aug. 7 Anthrax suspect's lawyer: Kappa obsession is not proof
Though investigators have named Bruce Ivins the sole actor in the 2001 anthrax attacks and declared the case solved, Ivins' lawyer emphasized Thursday that there is no evidence proving Ivins' alleged obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority led him to Princeton, where anthrax-laced letters were mailed from a Nassau Street mailbox.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, attorney Paul Kemp confirmed that Ivins had a fixation with the sorority but said that Ivins did not have anything to do with the deadly letters mailed from the Princeton mailbox just 300 feet from where the University's Kappa chapter keeps its rush paraphernalia, initiation robes and other materials.
"The only thing that exists at 20 Nassau Street is a business office," said Kemp, an attorney at Venable LLP. "They don't have sorority offices. There is no sorority house. If the idea of this salacious report is that he went because there were girls ... there aren't any girls at 20 [Nassau Street]. It's bullshit."
"All I can say is: Where's the evidence of a crime?" Kemp said. "There is evidence of eccentric behavior and psychological unbalance, but I don't see a crime. I hope that doesn't constitute evidence of a crime in this country."
Kemp said that Ivins' fixation dates back to his years at the University of Cincinnati, when he was rebuffed by a member of the Kappa chapter there. He also said Ivins had at times visited the chapter houses at the universities of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, but had no contact with any members of the sorority or their chapter houses since 1981.
"I'm sure there was no contact," he said of any potential interaction between Ivins and Kappa members at the University. Kemp, who has represented Ivins for more than a year, added that it "doesn't make any sense" for Ivins to have chosen Princeton because there are actual sorority houses at schools closer to his laboratory in Maryland.
Kemp also said that Ivins, whose father graduated from the University in 1928, had admitted his obsession to investigators two years ago. They were also aware of his unstable mental condition.
Ivins died July 29 from a codeine overdose. His death came shortly after he learned that federal prosecutors were preparing to indict him on capital murder charges.
Officials said they hope the sorority link will help explain why the letters were mailed from Princeton, nearly 200 miles from the Fort Detrick lab in Frederick, Md., where Ivins worked and where officials believe the anthrax was stolen.
Kemp said that the government doesn't have a case beyond the fact that Ivins had the access, opportunity and knowledge to commit the crime, which the defense has never disputed.
"Then what's the next thing?" Kemp asked. "That he was troubled? Had psychological problems? What about the crime? People get charged with crimes, not with being psychologically disturbed."
While they admit that there is no evidence to suggest that Ivins was focused on any one Kappa member or any University student, officials told The Associated Press that Ivins' e-mails and other documents illustrate his longtime obsession with the organization.
Authorities had planned to argue that Ivins could have made the seven-hour round trip from Frederick to Princeton in the evening after work. One official told the AP that investigators were working off the assumption Ivins mailed the letters from near Kappa's Princeton chapter to confuse authorities were he to emerge as a suspect.
Katherine Breckinridge, a Kappa alumna and adviser to the University's chapter, told the AP on Monday that she had been interviewed by FBI investigators "over the last couple of years" regarding the case. She did not provide any details because she signed an FBI nondisclosure form but did say there was no indication any sorority members had anything to do with Ivins.
"Nothing odd went on," she told the AP.
Police officials with Princeton Borough and Township told the AP Ivins' name was not found in a search of incident reports and restraining orders. University spokeswoman Emily Aronson told the ‘Prince’ that Public Safety has no record of any incidents involving someone named Bruce Ivins. Aronson referred further questions about the investigation to the FBI.
Closing the investigation
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released documents from its seven-year investigation into Ivins. The hundreds of pages were unsealed just before FBI Director Robert Mueller ’66 briefed relatives of the five people killed and the 17 others sickened by the anthrax attacks.
FBI officials declared that the case had been solved and that Ivins acted alone.
Kemp said that, given the government has declared the case solved, there is not much else to be done. "I think there is a possibility, although slim, of a congressional hearing," Kemp said, adding that a civil suit is possible as well.
"Apart from that, there can't be anything," he said. "It's a shame."
The documents reveal that at the time of the attacks, Ivins had been the "sole custodian" of a "large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks" since its creation in 1997.
But Kemp said that more than 100 people on the base had access to the material.
"They make this statement that he was the sole custodian like the thing was locked up, which is not true," Kemp said. "Anyone who wanted it could go in and get it and leave. There were no restrictions, no surveillance, no security guard. It's sort of an amazing situation for a pathogen lab containing multiple kinds of stuff, all of which is totally toxic and poisonous."
The documents allege that Ivins sought to mislead investigators, claiming the anthrax used in the attacks was different from the batch maintained in his laboratory and giving them false samples of anthrax from his laboratory. They also say Ivins had mental health issues and sent a suspicious e-mail a few days before the anthrax attacks with similar wording to the laced letters.
But Kemp said it is actually government officials who are making misleading statements and failing to mention that Ivins passed two polygraph tests in 2002.
"He submitted proper samples in February," he said. "The government lost one, and the other was sent to a lab in New Mexico, and the government can trace it right back to his lab."
The documents also show Ivins logged long evening shifts in mid-September 2001 and early October 2001. The anthrax letters were postmarked Sept. 18, 2001 and Oct. 9, 2001. The documents say Ivins was unable to provide investigators with an "adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time."
Investigators also determined the envelopes that held the letters were bought from a post office in Maryland or Virginia. Of the 16 laboratories in the country that had virulent anthrax strains like the ones in the mailings, Ivins' lab was the only one located in either state.
Kemp countered that "millions of people" could have bought those envelopes all over Maryland and Virginia.
During a July search of Ivins’ home, Kemp said officials did not recover a "single thing" except for unmailed letters to members of Congress and a copy of the book "The Plague" by Albert Camus. They also recovered some ammunition, but Kemp said they had also seen that ammunition during a November search of the home and decided to leave it. Kemp said they found no traces of anthrax and nothing incriminating on any of Ivins' four computers.
Kemp emphasized the lack of physical evidence. "All they've found is unmailed letters and a book," he said. "I really hope that's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
The FBI's media office and the Kappa press office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), whose congressional district includes Princeton, said in a statement Wednesday he was "pleased the FBI finally has begun to answer the questions that the families of the victims have had for nearly seven years."
From the 'Prince' archives:
— University responds to anthrax concerns (Oct. 16, 2001)
— Anthrax found in Princeton Borough (Nov. 12, 2001)
— FBI questions University personnel to find possible sources of anthrax (Nov. 15, 2001)
— Borough mailbox near Holder Hall removed after FBI finds anthrax trace (Sept. 11, 2002)