GAINESVILLE - A jury has convicted two north Georgia men of plotting to make the poison ricin to target government officials.
Ray Adams and Samuel Crump were convicted Friday in federal court of conspiring to make and possess ricin.
The jury deliberated for 90 minutes in Gainesville before reaching their decision. It came after two weeks of testimony.
Adams and Crump were among four men arrested in November 2011 after surveillance by an undercover informant who was present for meetings at homes, during car rides and at a Waffle House restaurant. Defense attorneys said the men never had the intent or ability to carry out an attack.
Two others previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to get an unregistered explosive and an illegal gun silencer.
Defense attorneys said Friday two north Georgia men accused in a plot targeting the federal government talked a big game but never had the intent or means to carry out an attack. A federal prosecutor countered that the pair's words and actions demonstrated their clear intent and ability.
The statements came during the closing arguments Friday. Testimony in the case lasted nearly two weeks.
Prosecutor Bill McKinnon set out evidence on a table in front of the jury, including: an identical ricin recipe found at both defendants' homes; shelled castor beans, the main ingredient in ricin, found at both homes; acetone, an ingredient in ricin production, found at Adams' home; rubber gloves to protect hands from the toxin found at Crump's home.
McKinnon then reminded the jury of secretly taped conversations from 2011 between a group of men that sometimes included Adams and Crump in which the men could be heard discussing their hatred of the federal government, the possibility of using ricin against government targets, their willingness to kill and steps they would need to take make the poison.
Alluding to the age of the men and their physical condition, Adams' defense attorney Ed Tolley said the two "couldn't have done what (prosecutors) alleged if their lives depended on it." Authorities never found any active ricin at either man's home, Tolley said.
Adams and Crump weren't big fans of the federal government and met with other like-minded men to express their frustrations, but their discussions were nothing but bravado and they never had the intent or ability to carry out an attack, defense attorneys argued. People often say when they're worked up that they want to hurt a person who's made them mad, but that doesn't mean they do it, Crump defense attorney Dan Summer said.
Defense attorneys repeatedly raised questions and concerns about the government's use of a confidential informant, but Story told lawyers before the jury came in Friday that he didn't believe the case involved entrapment.
The informant, Joe Sims, was a key witness for the prosecution. During his testimony, which lasted several days, jurors heard secret recordings Sims made between March and October 2011 of conversations among Roberts, Thomas, Adams, Crump and others. In the recorded discussions, the men can be heard talking about a wide variety of topics, including recruiting new members, what kind of weapons they would need for an armed uprising and how they could use toxins to poison government officials.
Sims had contacted the FBI in mid-2010 when he was in jail facing child molestation charges that were later dropped and child pornography charges in South Carolina. Sims eventually pleaded guilty to the latter charges.
Sims told agents he had been involved in militia groups and had information about possible upcoming attacks in Georgia. His tip didn't pan out, but once he was out on bond agents took him up on his offer to infiltrate a militia group he had ties to and to provide information to authorities. He contacted Roberts and was invited to attend militia meetings in the spring of 2011.
Defense attorneys spent a lot of time attacking Sims' credibility. They had his ex-wife testify, and she said he was a liar and violent. They also accused the government of making a deal with Sims, who they said was an unsavory character who drove the discussion during the meetings and pushed Adams and Crump forward in the ricin plot because he was hoping for a reduction in his own charges and sentence.
"But for Joe Sims this case wouldn't be here, you wouldn't be here," Tolley told the jury. "They have turned a predator loose on us in exchange for what? Two old men at a Waffle House."
McKinnon, the prosecutor, reminded jurors that Adams and Crump took actual steps toward making ricin - looking up a recipe and gathering ingredients. Other men who could be heard on some tapes of their discussions never did anything more than talk and, therefore, weren't facing any charges.