OXFORD, Miss. - The stories from family and acquaintances of a Mississippi man charged with sending ricin-laced letters to the president and other officials describe a caring father and enthusiastic musician who struggled with mental illness and pursued a conspiracy theory to its farthest reaches.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, wrote numerous Web posts over the past several years describing the event 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 about and publicize what he claimed was an elaborate conspiracy theory to sell body parts on the black markets, 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 was 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 to report that her husband was extremely delusional and felt the government was spying on him with drones.
Laura Curtis said she doesn't believe the allegations against him. "He just likes to speak out."
"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. Laura Curtis said she moved to a house next door after the split. Her ex-husband moved to Birmingham, Ala., 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.
Others said Curtis' behavior was often erratic.
Tupelo attorney David Daniels said Curtis was in a show he helped organize about 10 years ago. Daniels said he 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.'"
But he said Curtis stayed by the vehicle for as long as 15 minutes. "He was screaming and ranting and raving about body parts being sold," Daniels said.