AP NEWS
Related topics

Man Arrested For Possession of Poison Kills Self In Cell

December 24, 1995

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A man arrested on a biological weapons charge for having a lethal extract of the castor bean plant committed suicide Saturday in his jail cell.

Thomas Lewis Lavy hanged himself sometime overnight, said his attorney, Sam Heuer, who did not give any details. He was pronounced dead at 7 a.m. at University Hospital.

``This man never had any intentions of harming a soul,″ Heuer said. ``He was a very peaceful law abiding citizen.″

Lavy was arrested Wednesday at his farm in northern Arkansas. He had been indicted in Alaska on a federal charge of possession of a toxic substance, ricin, with intent to use it as a weapon.

Ricin is third in toxicity behind only plutonium and the botulism toxin, FBI Agent Thomas Lynch said. It has no known antidote.

At a hearing Friday, Lavy was ordered held without bail.

Heuer said Lavy could have been driven to suicide by the possibility of life in prison, which was the maximum sentence if he had been convicted under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.

``Can you imagine being 54 years old and never arrested in your life and being incarcerated and told you’re facing potential life imprisonment on a situation that he was totally innocent of?″ Heuer said.

U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said the death was under investigation and she could not give details.

Prosecutors didn’t buy Lavy’s claim that he was trying to carry 130 grams of the poison from Alaska into Canada because he wanted to bring it to Arkansas to kill coyotes that threatened chickens on his farm.

``It would be tantamount to saying you can use a thermonuclear device to protect your property from break-in or burglary,″ said prosecutor Robert Govar.

Canadian customs agents who searched Lavy’s car at a border crossing in 1993 found $89,000 in cash, four guns, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition and a quantity of white powder, Lynch testified. Analysis of the powder showed it was ricin.

Lynch said he didn’t learn of the Canadian border incident until earlier this year, and then had to trace Lavy to his farm.

U.S. Magistrate Jerry W. Cavaneau said at Friday’s hearing that the government hadn’t produced any evidence that Lavy used or intended to use ricin for criminal activity.

Castor beans, produced by a commonly available ornamental plant, are potentially lethal to humans, said Dr. Toby Litovitz, director of the Poison Control Center in Washington.

``When anyone swallows these beans the effects can be either profound or minimal because the person who swallows them doesn’t necessarily crack a coat,″ she said.

The beans are boiled with several compounds to make ricin, said Victor Le Vine, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on terrorism.

``The recipe for that sort of thing is not secret and it circulates fairly widely,″ he said.

Ricin was identified as the poison used by Bulgarian secret agents to kill defector Georgi Markov in London in 1978. Investigators said he was stabbed in the leg with an umbrella tipped with a pellet dipped in the poison.

In February, two members of a paramilitary group in Minnesota were the first people convicted in the United States under the anti-terrorism act. They were found guilty of possessing 0.7 grams of ricin.

In Kansas, prosecutors charged a doctor with attempted murder in the alleged ricin poisoning this summer of her estranged husband, who had to undergo surgery to drain a brain abscess that prosecutors said resulted from the poison.

Ricin damages the intestines, causing severe fluid loss which can cause a drop in blood pressure, heart trouble and an imbalance of electrolytes _ sodium, potassium and other substances essential to the body.

It also is toxic to the liver, the central nervous system, the kidneys and the adrenal system.

Investigators searching Lavy’s farm in Onia found a copy of ``The Poisoner’s Handbook,″ which describes how to extract ricin from castor beans, and ``Silent Death,″ which discusses ways to use toxic compounds to poison people.

AP RADIO
Update hourly