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Plague Expert Appeals Conviction to Supreme Court

A Texas plague expert who served a two-year sentence for fraud and other charges has appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Dec. 13, 2005).

A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Thomas Butler’s conviction in October, and the full court in January refused to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide whether to consider the April 10 appeal, said Jonathan Turley, Butler’s attorney.

Butler in 2003 reported that vials of plague had been stolen from his laboratory at Texas Tech University. Federal agents quickly blanketed Lubbock in search of the vials, only to have Butler admit that he had “accidentally destroyed” the samples.

Butler during his trial claimed that FBI agents demanded he confess in order to quell fears that terrorists might have been involved in the incident. He was convicted in December 2003 of 47 of 69 charges, largely connected to claims of defrauding the Texas Tech health sciences center. Jurors acquitted Butler of illegal transportation and smuggling of plague samples and of lying to federal agents.

Turley called the 47 convictions “raw injustice,” AP reported.

“The legal system failed Tom Butler,” he said. In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Turley argued that the charges connected to the plague incident should have been separated from the fraud allegations (Betsy Blaney, Associated Press/KRISTV.com, May 5).

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