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Ivins Attorney: Government's Case Is 'Speculation'

The government is getting ready to officially close its case against Bruce Ivins, the man officials say killed five people with deadly anthrax. But actual closure may be a long way off. In an exclusive interview with NPR, Ivins' attorney, Paul Kemp, said the FBI got the wrong man.

Kemp said there was nothing more frustrating than watching the government unveil its case against his client at a news conference. All he wanted to do was object.

"It is nothing but speculation, the government's case," he said.

Kemp represented Ivins for the past year until Ivins committed suicide last week. Now Kemp will never get a chance to test the government's evidence in court and, he believes, clear Ivins' name.

"We don't convict people on the idea that they may demonstrate eccentric behavior, or that they had the opportunity to commit a crime or had the knowledge to commit a crime, and that's what the government's saying," Kemp said.

The case against Ivins largely rests on new scientific techniques that investigators believe link Ivins to the anthrax used in the attacks. Officials say genetic analysis of the anthrax spores shows they match a flask in Ivins' possession. Officials called it the "murder weapon."

But Kemp said more than a hundred people had access to the flask and, more important, actually used that exact strain of anthrax. He says the anthrax in the flask was sent to two other labs and was used in dozens of experiments by other scientists. He says mostly, it just doesn't make sense, because he says Ivins never tried to hide that it was the same anthrax.

"If you're the anthrax killer and you're this evil genius that knows all about anthrax, why would you leave it in precisely the same genetic state one year later, one month later, seven years later, as it was in at the time of the killings?" he asked.

Kemp says what troubles him most is that the government has been unable to place Ivins in New Jersey at the time the deadly letters were sent from a mailbox there. Even if he drove, even if he paid for every single thing in cash, "nobody saw him in New Jersey, they don't have any restaurant receipts or gas receipts or surveillance tapes or witnesses. Where's a witness that can put him in New Jersey or put him on the way to New Jersey or put him on the way back from New Jersey, or having in his car a New Jersey Turnpike toll receipt?"

On the flip side, of course, there isn't any evidence right now that Ivins wasn't in New Jersey. But Kemp says that's because it has been seven years, and the first thing they would have done if Ivins had been charged was go back and find a way to prove he was at home, which he believes they could have easily done.

In the news conference this week, Washington, D.C.'s U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor sounded sure that he had gathered enough evidence to win over a jury.

"Circumstantial evidence? Sure, some of it is. But it's compelling evidence, and our view is we are confident it would have helped us prove this case against Dr. Ivins beyond a reasonable doubt," Taylor said.

But Kemp isn't the only one with doubts about that statement.

"If I were the government, I would be saying that as well," said Matt Orwig, who was a federal prosecutor for 20 years — and a U.S. attorney — in Dallas.

"I think, the truth be told, this would have been a very tough case, and I think it's fair to say that the government should be very satisfied that they don't have to play that out and see how good of a case it is," Orwig said.

Kemp said Ivins was struggling with his mental health but that he always sought treatment. He says Ivins did have an unusual interest in a sorority — but that was more than 20 years ago, after a woman rejected him. And he never tried to hide any of that from investigators, mislead them with a bad anthrax sample.

Ivins worked long hours the months before the letters were mailed, but Kemp says he could have shown that Ivins was, like he told investigators, having a particularly hard time at home during those exact months.

The Justice Department says without a doubt it has found the anthrax killer.

"Based on what?" Kemp asked. "Can they point to any evidence that shows he actually did anything that constitutes these anthrax attacks, was present at the place where these letters were mailed, ever admitted it to any single person or to himself in a journal or diary entry, or discussed it with another person?"

If Ivins had, it certainly would have left a lot less doubt than Kemp and Ivins' friends have now.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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