The Justice Department has shed some light on the evidence it has against the prime suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, a U.S. Army scientist who killed himself last week. At a news conference Wednesday, U.S. officials said the scientist, Bruce Ivins, had custody of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that were found to be identical to the poison that killed five people and left 17 injured. Cindy Saine has the story from Washington.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, told a roomful of reporters gathered in Washington that the evidence in dozens of newly unsealed court documents all points to one conclusion.
"Based upon the totality of the evidence we had gathered against him, we are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks," he said.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks letters thraced with anthrax were mailed to lawmakers, newsrooms and elsewhere, futher unsettling Americans and making many people afraid to open their mailbox. For seven years, the case remained unresolved.
The prosecutor said he regrets that investigators will not have the opportunity to present the evidence to the jury. Taylor said the most important piece of evidence, which he referred to as the "murder weapon" was a flask of anthrax.
"As the court documents allege, the parent material of the anthrax spores used in the attacks was a single flask of spores that was created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins," he said.
Investigators said they had also traced back to Ivins lab the exact type of envelope used to mail the anthrax-laden letters, and that he had worked unusually long hours in his lab around the time of the attacks and could not provide a good explanation for the extra hours.
For 35 years, Dr. Bruce Ivins was one of the U.S. government's leading scientists researching vaccines and cures for exposure to anthrax. His work at the U.S. Army's biochemical laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland earned him the Pentagon's highest honor for civilian employees.
But the 62-year-old husband and father of two committed suicide last week by taking an overdose of pain medication, as prosecutors closed in on him as the new prime suspect in the seven-year-old, unresolved anthrax case.
Documents released today depict Ivins as a deeply disturbed and paranoid man, who when confronted with the charges and a possible death sentence, told a social worker that he had a plan to kill co-workers and other individuals who wronged him.
Asked about a possible motive for the killings, Taylor said Ivins may have felt that he was under professional pressure concerning his anti-anthrax vaccine research at the time of the attacks.
"One theory is that by launching these attacks, he creates a situation, a scenario, where people all the sudden realize the need to have this vaccine," said Taylor.
Before the news conference Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller briefed survivors of the attacks and family members of victims behind closed doors. Officials say they will now begin the process of closing the case.