Suspect in 2001 anthrax attack dies of apparent suicide

Friday, August 1, 2008

NBC anthrax letter sent to Tom Brokaw.

A man about to be indicted by the United States Department of Justice died Tuesday. His lawyer has called the death a suicide.

Bruce Edwards Ivins, 62, was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Maryland, where he died of an overdose of Tylenol and codeine, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

Ivins, who worked at the biodefense laboratories in Fort Detrick, Maryland for 18 years, was about to be charged by the Justice Department in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people and infected 17 others.

Ivin's lawyer, Paul Kemp, insisted that his client had no role in the attacks, which targeted politicians in Washington DC, and members of the media in New York City and Florida.

"For six years, Dr. Ivins fully cooperated with that investigation, assisting the government in every way that was asked of him," Mr. Kemp told the New York Times. "The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people, as has already been seen in this investigation. In Dr. Ivins’ case, it led to his untimely death."

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times report that Ivins assisted the FBI and other agencies in the investigation after the 2001 attacks.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Ivins was reinvestigated beginning in 2006 after FBI Director Robert Mueller changed the case's leadership. Before then, the only labeled "person of interest" was Steven J. Hatfill. He has since been cleared and paid between $4.6 and $5.82 million by the U.S. Government as part of a settlement stemming for 2003 law suits filed against the Justice Department and government officials, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The New York Times also reported that a spokesman for Hatfill said that rushing to judgment in the case is a mistake.

“Everybody is jumping to the conclusion that because this guy committed suicide, he must be the anthrax killer,” Mr. Clawson told the New York Times. “That is a lousy premise. The pressure of these F.B.I. investigations on individuals is phenomenal, and it is quite likely that this guy cracked under that pressure but had nothing to do with the killings.”

The New York Times reports that Ivins had been undergoing psychiatric treatment within the last month and had a restraining order placed on him by a woman he was allegedly stalking and threatening.

According to National Public Radio (NPR), mental health professional Jean C. Duley requested that Frederick County court issue a "peace order", a type of restraining order, against Ivins in July. Duley submitted documents to the court which show a history of "homicidal actions, threats and plans."

The New York Times also reports that Ivins was a religious man. Members of his congregation gathered early Friday to pray for him at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick.

The Associated Press cites one of Ivins' colleagues who said he had been removed from his work area as he was thought to be a potential threat to others. According to NPR, one colleague said he was "emotionally fractured by the federal scrutiny."