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Sixth Circuit Affirms |Ricin Cooker’s Sentence

(CN) - A man who made enough Ricin to kill more than 250 people, intending to use it in a bizarre suicide plan, was properly convicted for possession of a biological weapon, the Sixth Circuit ruled.

In 2000, Jeff Levenderis obtained a handful of castor beans, found a recipe on the Internet, and made a high-grade form of Ricin, a deadly naturally-occurring toxin. Pure Ricin is so toxic that an amount equivalent to a few grains of salt can kill an adult human.

Levenderis stored the final product in a coffee can in his freezer at his home in Akron, Ohio.

About 10 years later, Levenderis fell ill and was placed in a long-term nursing facility. An acquaintance, Robert Coffman agreed to help Levenderis with the upkeep of his home.

At some point, Levenderis asked Coffman if the coffee can was still in the freezer, and said if so, not to disturb it. Coffman said that it was, and Levenderis eventually told him what was inside.

After discussing how to get rid of the Ricin, the two men decided to contact the fire department. Within 30 minutes of Coffman's call to the local fire department, he received a phone call from the FBI.

The same day, the FBI visited Levenderis at his nursing home, where he told the agents that the substance was ant poison.

Three days later, Levenderis visited the FBI office with his attorney, and admitted that the substance was actually a "high-grade, weaponized form of Ricin."

Levenderis claimed that he had considered using it in an elaborate suicide plan, in which he would light his house on fire, hang bottles of Ricin in the doorways, and place signs informing firefighters of the toxin, in order to prevent them from stopping his suicide by fire.

He also mentioned that it was a way to threaten his cousin, to keep him from coming to the house, and that he thought about using it to poison his stepfather, with whom he was feuding over inheritance matters, by putting it in his soup.

After confiscating the coffee can, the FBI determined that the can contained 35.9 grams of Ricin, enough to kill more than 250 people.

A jury found Levenderis guilty possessing a biological toxin for use as a weapon and making false statements to the FBI.

He was sentenced to six years in prison on the possession charge, less than the sentencing guidelines, because the judge found Levenderis was "not equipped to carry out a terrorist attack even if he intended to," due to his poor health. It is also unclear how deadly the homemade chemical would have been.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction Thursday.

"The lethality of Ricin, combined with the fact that he intended to use it in a way that could have exposed an unknown number of firefighters, first-responders, and residents to the substance, demonstrates that defendant's conduct had the potential to cause mass harm," U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Griffin said, writing for the three-judge panel.

The court said this potential for mass harm distinguishes Levenderis' actions from those of Carol Bond, a jilted wife who sought to take revenge on her husband's lover by spreading corrosive chemicals on her car door handles and mailbox.

Bond's actions were the subject of the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Bond v. U.S., in which the court found that prosecuting Bond under the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty was unconstitutional.

No one "in natural parlance would describe Bond's feud-driven act of spreading irritating chemicals on Hayne's door know and mailbox as 'combat.' Nor do the other circumstances of Bond's offense - an act of revenge born of romantic jealousy, meant to cause discomfort, that produced nothing more than a minor thumb burn - suggest that a chemical weapon was deployed in Norristown, Pennsylvania," Chief Justice John Roberts said in his opinion.

By contrast, "the confluence of both the inherent danger of Ricin and the harmful, albeit bizarre, manner in which he intended to use it brings Levenderis' conduct within the ordinary and common sense meaning of 'biological weapon,'" Griffin said.

The court also found that the FBI's initial questioning of Levenderis at his nursing home did not place him in custody, so the agents were not required to read him his Miranda rights.

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