Danny Milzman, the ricin-making student at Georgetown, may be a first in the past decade’s history of castor bean pounders in America. After today’s court appearance, Milzman’s attorney, Danny Onorato, was successful at getting him into an in-house psychiatric evaluation and treatment program at a hospital after which he would be released to home. The government wanted him held in jail without bond. 
In ricin cases in the US this just doesn’t happen.
No one cares about ricin-makers. All of them, with one exception, a woman who attempted and failed to poison herself last year, are kept in jail and eventually convicted.
I’ll get to the contrasts with the Milzman case in a moment.
It’s no secret that class, economic status and family have much to do with how one is treated in the US justice system.
But Danny Milzman’s ricin case is now an example of that, too. Because if, eventually, he does not receive a prison sentence, class, the circumstances of his upbringing, his family’s resources and his treatment in the Washington Post will all have played a role.
From the Post, moments ago:
Daniel Milzman, who friends said has a sharp scientific mind, spent days carefully tinkering with castor beans and chemicals, finally producing a lethal amount of a toxin that is seven times as powerful as cobra venom: ricin. The poison has been manufactured by terrorists and can kill with just a small amount of contact …
[Ricin is not a contact poison. Post reporters get it wrong as soon as the second paragraph. However, the Milzman case is now one of human interest and, that, they can sink their teeth into.]
“He was tortured. He was having a hard time in his life. He was a scared 19-year-old kid,” Onorato said. The ricin was “not intended for anyone other than himself.”
Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola agreed, ordering Milzman released to an in-patient psychiatric program at Sibley Memorial Hospital …
He co-authored articles with his father, David Milzman, who is the research director at the Department of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola agreed, ordering Milzman released to an in-patient psychiatric program at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Milzman was a National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, MD, which — you should know — is one of the public schools of choice for the upper middle class servants of the capitol’s political power and wealth brokers.
“Students remember that he raised money for leukemia research and launched several unsuccessful runs for president of the student government association that were punctuated by humorous speeches,” the Post adds.
Milzman had a “glowing” personality and answered science questions “lightning quick.”
You get the picture. The entire piece is here.
Yes, it would be a shame for Danny Milzman to get ten years on a ricin beef. There is no way such an outcome would serve any purpose other than punitive. Milzman is, at best, a petty nuisance with some mental problems.
However, there are a few wrinkles. There have been other ricin men who were no more than petty nuisances with some mental problems. The difference has been that in our system, no one cared about them like the folks care about Danny Milzman.
Take the case of Jeffrey Levenderis.
From this blog’s unsurpassed archives (these are wire news excerpts, with the last item being my words):
[In January of 2011 the] Akron office of the FBI received a tip on Monday about a possible hazardous substance at a house in the 2000 block of South Main Street. The next day, the FBI’s Hazardous Materials Response Unit from Quantico, Virginia and the FBI’s Pittsburgh Hazardous Response Team searched the home.
According to a news release from the FBI on Friday, FBI labs confirm the hazardous substance was ricin, which can be deadly if ingested or inhaled . The toxin is derived from the castor bean.
The FBI said during a news conference Friday that an arrest has made and 54-year-old Jeffery Levenderis, of Coventry Township, will appear in Akron federal court on Friday.
Levenderis used to live at the house and another person was in the process of moving in. He faces one count of having a dangerous or toxic substance. Authorities do not believe this has any connection to terrorism.
Ricin suspect Jeff Boyd Levenderis will continue to be held on suicide watch in Summit County jail at least until a Feb. 15 federal court hearing when his lawyer will resume trying to get him released on bond …
Before his arrest last week, Levenderis was staying in a Tallmadge nursing home where his attorney said he was being treated for mental illness and a thyroid condition. Bryan said Levenderis might go back there if released.
Bryan said Levenderis’ health improved dramatically after being placed in the nursing home in November and he expressed concern it might deteriorate in jail. He said Levenderis’ suicide watch includes being held naked in a cell under constant watch from deputies.
A judge refused bail to Jeffrey B. Levenderis, jailed when a container containing castor powder was found in what had been his refrigerator by a new tenant …
The judge in this case ruled that attorney’s had not shown the community would be safe if Levenderis was remitted to the nursing home he’d been in.
To my knowledge, Jeffrey Levenderis is still in jail awaiting trial.
Or take the case of Roger von Bergendorff.
From the Register, by me, in 2008:
It takes a special kind of American to be fascinated by ricin, and last week the latest, Roger Von Bergendorff, was indicted in the District Court of Nevada. Bergendorff possibly qualifies for an award in failed Darwinism, being the only person in recent times to have seemingly accidentally poisoned himself with the protein toxin, but not quite effectively enough for the FBI to have nothing to do except attend his funeral.
The US government’s complaint against Bergendorff, filed on April 15 paints a common picture: loser dude on the fringes of society, indigent but with still enough money to have two unregistered guns with silencers, castor seeds, a standard collection of anarchist poisons literature and castor powder – or “crude” ricin as the FBI puts it.
Bergendorff told the FBI his production of ricin was an “exotic idea.” He’d been puttering away at powdering castor seeds as something of a hobby since 2005 while living in poverty in Utah and Nevada. He’d pounded them in the basement of a cousin (who has also been charged in connection with the case) and, most recently, possibly in an Extended Stay America hotel room in Las Vegas.
Bergendorff had “researched” the Internet for his ricin recipe, downloading the Anarchist’s Cookbook. He babbled his method to the FBI, which duly reported he had conducted “a series of ‘mashings’ of the castor seeds with acetone and drying out the mash to remove the oil.” While Bergendorff admitted to doing this, he professed to not always remember precisely where he’d done the work or if he’d performed it on castor seeds bought from a garden shop, the receipt for which the FBI recovered in its searches. “Bergendorff admitted [that there had been people] who made him mad over the years and he had thoughts about causing them harm to the point of making some plans but he maintained he had never acted on those thoughts or plans,” reads the indictment.
Bergendorff had been hospitalized, possibly from his powder although this was never proven conclusively, and that is how the case came to light.
There was no sympathy or mercy. Bergendorff was convicted.
Said the judge: “You not only proved a material threat to yourself, you proved a material threat to everyone around you when you possessed this stuff.”
And, last, we arrive at the story of Casey Cutler, someone who never even made ricin. He wanted to but could not find castor seeds. Instead, he tried to make it from castor oil, which does not contain ricin.
But the biggest travesty is the story of Casey Cutler, an addled young man caught by very bad luck and drug use gone wrong, pathetically trying to make ricin from an intestinal lubricant.
As GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow, I chatted with Jon Sands, Cutler’s federal public defender at the beginning of summer. He laughed dryly and described the case as “terrorism lite” before sending over the files on the case.
Cutler, according to Sands, suffered from a variety of mental problems and had been “self-medicating” with marijuana and other drugs which he purchased from bad elements, the kind apparently quick to teach you a physical lesson should you renege on payment.
Cutler was subsequently rolled by his suppliers on April 28 of 2005, causing him to hatch a self-defense plan, one in which he would use ricin to poison his tormentors should they return. He would offer it as free drugs …
[Cutler] found he had no idea how to get the beans. So he went to a store and bought castor oil, which – of course – contains no ricin.
No worries, Cutler boiled down the castor oil “to reduce it and utilized acetone (as indicated by the recipe) to extract the ricin from the mixture,” reads the finding of fact in his federal plea agreement with the US. But since castor oil contains no ricin, the federal court document is stuck, finding it awkward to admit that the defendant could not possibly have had the toxin. Instead it reads, “Defendant Casey Cutler did something that was a substantial step toward the production of a biological toxin.”
Cutler, unfortunately, had a roommate just as easily confused as he. The man contracted bronchitis – “flu like symptoms” according to an FBI agent’s report – but because he knew of Cutler’s intent, thought he had been poisoned, and went to a local emergency room for treatment.
According to Sands, while local medical personnel were not overly concerned that ricin poisoning was afoot rather than bronchitis, once the word ricin was uttered, it had to be reported to the federal network.
What happened next was exactly what happened in the cases of Danny Milzman and Nicholas Helman last week. The mailed fist of US counter-terror came to town.
Adding confusion was a false positive for ricin lab test on a locket containing part of Casey Cutler’s marijuana stash.
While the test was shown to be in error, and Cutler never made ricin, nor could he have, he was convicted anyway. And in subsequent years he wound up being counted in government statistics on terrorism.
Contrast this with Danny Milzman, who actually did grind castor seeds and extract the result.
Readers can see the picture emerge.
These three men, like Danny Milzman, were really nothing more than petty nuisances. No one was hurt by any of them. And no one could have possibly been hurt in the Cutler incident. There was never any real danger to the public.
But these men received no sympathy. Certainly no one came forward in a big newspaper to speak to their character or what they once might have been. And they received little to no mercy in court.
Jeffrey Levenderis, arrested in 2011, has yet to be even granted a trial.
Danny Milzman, on the other hand, was highly regarded in his high school. At Georgetown he was fast with science answers. He wrote articles with his accomplished father, made ricin only when he knew his roommate was away, carefully and responsibly disposed of some it and confessed in tears to his ex-boyfriend.
Milzman was depressed, emotionally tortured in some way. It would be a waste for his case to turn out as badly as it could.
Just like the men who went to jail, for which things turned out very badly, anyway.
And this analysis is why one reads DD’s blog.
1. From the wires, March 25:
After the judge ruled Milzman should be released to home confinement, upon which his parents would immediately take him to Sibley Memorial Hospital for two weeks of psychiatric care. Then, Milzman was ordered to be taken home and not left alone.
Prosecutors immediately requested a 24-hour stay to appeal the decision…