GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A jury found two Georgia men guilty on Friday of plotting to make the poison ricin in what prosecutors described as a plan to target federal government officials.
The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Ray Adams, 57, and Samuel Crump, 71, guilty on two counts against them. The verdict came after nearly two weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Richard Story in Gainesville.
Both men were found guilty on a single count each of conspiring to make ricin to be used as a weapon. They also were found guilty of one count each of possessing a biological toxin for use as a weapon, identified in the indictment as ricin in its natural state, meaning it hadn't been extracted from castor beans in which it occurs naturally.
Adams had also been charged with a single count of attempting to develop, produce and possess a biological toxin because prosecutors said they found evidence at his home that he had been actively trying to extract ricin from castor beans. The jury acquitted him on that count.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
During his closing argument Friday, prosecutor Bill McKinnon set evidence on a table in front of the jury that included an identical ricin recipe found at both defendants' homes; shelled castor beans, the main ingredient in ricin, found at both homes; acetone, an ingredient in ricin production, found at Adams' home; and rubber gloves to protect hands from the toxin found at Crump's home.
McKinnon then reminded the jury of secretly taped conversations from 2011 between a group of men that sometimes included Adams and Crump in which the men could be heard discussing their hatred of the federal government, the possibility of using ricin against government targets, their willingness to kill and steps they would need to take make the poison.
Defense attorneys had argued that their clients were talking big about their frustrations with the federal government but that they never had the intention or means to carry out an attack.
Ed Tolley, a defense attorney for Adams, said the case was hard-fought.
"What that boils down to is if you have castor beans, you better not suggest you're going to do anything with them," Tolley said after the verdict.
Dan Summer, Crump's attorney, said he respected the jury's decision.
"They did what they thought was the right thing to do," he said. "All I can ask for is a fair trial and I believe the court gave us a fair trial."
McKinnon said after the verdict that he didn't immediately have a comment.
Adams and Crump were among four men arrested in November 2011 after recordings were made by an undercover informant who attended their meetings at homes, during car rides and at a Waffle House restaurant.
The other two men, Dan Roberts and Frederick Thomas, pleaded guilty in April 2012 to conspiring to get an unregistered explosive and an illegal gun silencer. Story sentenced them each to serve five years in prison.
The law enforcement informant, Joe Sims, was a key witness for the prosecution. Sims had contacted the FBI in mid-2010 when he was in jail facing child molestation charges that were later dropped and child pornography charges in South Carolina. Sims eventually pleaded guilty to the latter charges.
Once he was out on bond, agents took Sims up on his offer to infiltrate a militia group he had ties to. He contacted Roberts and was invited to attend militia meetings in the spring of 2011. He attended many meetings while wearing a recording device provided by a federal agent.
While Roberts and Thomas had been militia members, Adams and Crump had never formally joined the group.
During his testimony, which lasted several days, jurors heard secret recordings Sims made between March and October 2011 of conversations among Roberts, Thomas, Adams, Crump and others. In the recorded discussions, the men can be heard talking about a wide variety of topics, including recruiting new members, what kind of weapons they would need for an armed uprising and how they could use toxins to poison government officials.
Defense attorneys repeatedly raised questions and concerns about the government's use of a confidential informant, but Story told lawyers before the jury came in Friday that he didn't believe the case involved entrapment.
The defense tried to discredit Sims by putting his ex-wife on the stand to testify that he was a liar. Defense attorneys also argued that Sims drove the discussion during the meetings and pushed Adams and Crump forward in the ricin plot because he was hoping for a reduction in his own charges and sentence.
McKinnon, the prosecutor, reminded jurors that Adams and Crump actually took steps toward making ricin — looking up a recipe and gathering ingredients. Other men who could be heard in some of the secretly recorded discussions never did anything more than talk and, therefore, weren't facing any charges.