Washington State man's conviction for ricin possession upheld

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the conviction of a Washington State man for possessing lethal amounts of the biotoxin ricin.

Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman said a unanimous panel was confident beyond a doubt that the jurors in the case would have found Kenneth Olsen guilty of the crime even if they had known about the existence of a report questioning the credibility of the forensic scientist who may have contaminated evidence, according to MetNews.com.

In 2001, Olsen was arrested after test tubes and other paraphernalia were found in the cubicle where he worked as a computer technician at Agilent Technologies, Inc. A forensic scientist at the Washington State Patrol crime laboratory, Arnold Melnikoff, found a bag of castor beans, several bottles of medicine and a residue he later said was castor oil in a bag among Olsen's items.

Melnikoff suspected the items might contain the biotoxin ricin, which is derived from castor beans, so he sent them to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis. The FBI sent the items to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, which confirmed the presence of ricin, according to MetNews.com.

Olsen did not contest at trial that he produced and possessed ricin, but said he made the toxin out of morbid curiosity, not to use as a weapon.

The prosecution claimed Olsen researched ways to kill without being detected and went so far as to fill an allergy pill with the toxin. After a two-week trial, a jury convicted Olsen, who then filed a habeas motion based on the prosecution's alleged suppression of a report criticizing Melnikoff's honest and competence. The motion was denied.