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Closing Arguments in Bio Weapons Trial

July 17, 2003

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the case of a computer engineer accused of making and possessing ricin, a deadly poison the government considers a biological weapon.

If Kenneth Olsen, 49, is convicted on either count in federal court, he faces a maximum life prison term and $250,000 fine.

During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Whitaker told the jury that logs of Web sites Olsen accessed from his work station showed he meticulously researched undetectable poisons, and kept coming back to ricin.

Although there was no direct evidence concerning any target, Whitaker suggested it could have been a boss or Olsen’s wife. Carol Olsen, who was not harmed, has defended her husband since his arrest last year.

Whitaker dismissed defense contentions that Olsen was researching how to make essential oils, such as castor oil, for a new career as a massage therapist. Keyword searches Olsen used showed he had another intent, she said.

Defense attorney Tina Hunt said the government’s case was based on fantasies and assumptions and did not prove Olsen intended to kill anyone.

Olsen’s searches of Web sites on how to make untraceable poisons and kill people were ``irresponsible, foolish, curiosity that would kill a cat ... but not illegal,″ she said.

Hunt asked jurors to look at testimony that implied government scientists were sloppy in their handling of evidence taken from Olsen’s desk at work.

Authorities said they found about 3 grams of ricin powder in two test tubes and a jar in Olsen’s locked file cabinet. Federal witnesses testified that was enough to kill as many as 900 people, depending on how it was used.

The former Scoutmaster has been jailed without bond since his arrest in June 2002.

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