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Ricin Conviction Nets 13-Year Prison Sentence

A U.S. district judge yesterday sentenced a Washington state man to 13 years in prison for developing and possessing the lethal chemical ricin (see GSN, July 18).

In July, a jury convicted 49-year-old Kenneth Olsen of “producing and possessing a biological agent … for use as a weapon” and “producing, owning and possessing a chemical weapon” (David McGlinchey, GSN, Oct. 29).

Prosecutors said that Olsen had extensively researched ricin and methods of killing people with the toxin. Police officials testified that Olsen kept ricin at work and might have planned to use the poison to kill a boss or his wife.

“He took steps to accumulate the raw materials and equipment necessary to produce a poison,” U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen said during the sentencing. “This conduct was dangerous and reckless,” Nielsen added.

Olsen’s family stood by him and unsuccessfully asked the judge to dismiss the conviction or to impose a light sentence.

“This is a dangerous individual,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks. “We can understand his family looking away from the obvious facts,” he added (Nicholas Geranios, Associated Press/Seattle Times, Oct. 29).

At his sentencing hearing, Olsen denied accusations that he planned to harm someone with the ricin.

“None are true,” he said. His defense attorneys have said that he was merely inquisitive.

Nielsen, however, said that “there really was no legitimate purpose” for having the poison. “There were dozens and dozens of people who had access to that area, to that airspace,” the judge said, adding that it was “a godsend none of it escaped” (Bill Morlin, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Oct. 28).

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