Guilty plea to charges of having toxic ricin — (The Knoxville News-Sentinal)

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The Knoxville News-Sentinal

By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press

February 6, 2007

Man also possessed silencers, explosives

NASHVILLE – A Nashville man pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges of possessing the potentially deadly poison ricin, firearms silencers and explosives.

William Matthews entered his plea in a deal with prosecutors that calls for a prison term of seven years and three months when he is sentenced April 27.

The ricin charge could have been punished by up to life in prison, and the weapons charges each carried a maximum sentence of 10 years.

“Mr. Matthews, I think, chose this (deal) as the best of the available options,” his lawyer, public defender Sumter Camp, said after court.

Neither the defendant nor the authorities explained why Matthews had the ricin, which is illegal to possess except for research, and the silencers and explosives, which are legal but were not properly registered.

A prosecutor declined to comment following the plea hearing.

Matthews was charged after a tip from his estranged wife led police and federal agents to search his property May 31. They found the ricin in a sealed baby food jar, two functional pipe bombs, five gun silencers, three blasting caps and bomb-making materials.

As little as 500 micrograms of the protein ricin, roughly the amount that fits on the head of a pin, is enough to kill an adult, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In his plea, the defendant acknowledged possessing 5.68 grams of the substance, which he had made from castor beans.

Matthews, 56, was already in a Davidson County jail serving a nine-month sentence for violating orders of protection taken out by his wife when he was charged with ricin possession. He has remained in custody since then.

He appeared for Monday’s hearing in an orange prisoner jumpsuit with handcuffs and ankle shackles.

Matthews, who worked as a Davidson County sheriff’s officer and at the city’s drug court before he left amid a sexual harassment investigation, testified that in the 1960s he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and received treatment then.

Matthews submitted to a psychiatric examination late last year, but the results are sealed.

He also testified that he took antidepressant and painkiller medications until he entered jail seven months ago.

Associates of Matthews have told authorities that he talked about ricin more than a year before his arrest but that he was not known to be associated with any terrorist organizations or other violent groups.

In February 2004, ricin was found in the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Dozens of Capitol employees were quarantined briefly and decontaminated, but none of them got sick. Authorities said at the time Matthews was charged that he was not believed to be connected to the incident.