It took a federal jury in Gainesville, Ga., only 90 minutes to convict two members of a north Georgia militia in a plot to produce the deadly poison ricin and use it to “attack government buildings and kill government employees.”
Samuel J. Crump Jr., 70, and Ray H. Adams, 57, were convicted Friday of conspiracy, possession of a biological toxin for use as a weapon and attempted possession of a biological toxin. A sentencing date hasn’t been set, but both face up to life in prison.
The pair were among four suspects arrested on Nov. 1, 2011, after two FBI informants secretly taped 400 hours of discussions of plans for dispersing ricin powder from speeding cars in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fla., and New Orleans. Two of the men pleaded guilty in the antigovernment plot in 2012.
The FBI considered the case one of its top terrorism investigations of 2011. While it wasn’t clear what the men expected to accomplish with their ricin attacks, they were taped talking about “saving the Constitution” by killing people.
Less than six months after an initial indictment was returned on Nov. 3, 2011, Frederick W. Thomas, 73, the reported leader of the group, and Emory Dan Roberts, 67, both entered guilty pleas in April 2012. They pleaded guilty to conspiring to acquire an unregistered explosive and an illegal silencer, and both were sentenced to five years in prison.
As part of such plea agreements, defendants routinely agree to assist federal investigators and testify as prosecution witnesses before grand juries investigating crimes and at trial if called.
With guilty pleas from Thomas and Roberts, federal prosecutors went back to a federal grand jury and got a superseding indictment last December, somewhat revamping the charges.
The charging document says the defendants were part “of a covert militia group that planned, among other activities, armed attacks on government buildings and federal government employees, including law enforcement agents.”
“During [their] meetings, the defendants and others known and unknown to the grand jury discussed their willingness to advance the militia group’s objectives by assassinating others by various means including the use of biological toxins,” the indictment said.
The group specifically was interested in producing ricin, and Adams acquired “quantity of castor beans” for its production. (Ricin is made by milling castor beans.) Two days before his arrest, Adams had a “recipe for making ricin” in his residence and was looking to obtain one pound of lye to finish making the deadly poison, the indictment said.
Neither Crump nor Adams elected to take the stand in their own defense during their two-week trial that started Jan. 6.
Federal prosecutors called government informant Joe Sims, who secretly made tape recordings of conversations after infiltrating the Militia of Georgia and the breakaway covert cell that included the four men. Sims contacted the FBI in mid-2010, while he was in jail in South Carolina on a child molestation charge. That charge later was dropped, but Sims pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
In audio recordings played for the jury, members of the covert militia cell are heard talking about various topics, including recruiting members, weapons needed for an armed uprising and how they could use toxins to poison government officials, according to media accounts of the trial.
Sims, who had participated in militia groups for about a decade, testified that the conversations were unusual because they centered on violence and killing innocent people.
At one point when Sims is heard saying he could kill someone in self-defense, a voice identified as Adams is heard saying he could be proactive and adds, “When it comes down to it, I can kill somebody,” the Atlanta newspaper reported.
A voice identified as Crump is heard talking about his grudges against the federal government and discussing ricin, including saying that Adams knew how to make it.
Only Roberts was called to testify against his former co-defendants. Questioned by defense attorneys, Roberts testified that the defendants had no violent intentions and that most of their talk and activity centered on emergency preparedness, including securing food, learning first aid and target practice. Sometimes they talked about their dislike of the federal government, but they never planned to carry out any violence against the government, he claimed.
Federal prosecutor Bill McKinnon cross-examined Roberts about specific comments about potential violent acts pulled from transcripts of the conversations. Roberts repeatedly said “it was just talk,” the Atlanta newspaper reported.
Then the prosecutor asked Roberts about making ricin and going to Washington, D.C., to use it to harm people — all caught on tape.
“Based on those discussions … you thought Mr. Crump was dangerous, didn't you?" the prosecutor asked.
After a pause, Roberts replied, “Yes, sir.”