Judge orders ricin suspect released, stays decision 24 hours

McCarthy Hall on the southeast corner of the campus of Georgetown University where, on the 6th floor, sophomore Daniel Milzman is accused of making the biological toxin ricin. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

WASHINGTON — A judge ordered the 19-year-old accused of making a deadly ricin toxin be released to home confinement for immediate admittance to a psychiatric hospital on Tuesday, then agreed to stay the ruling for 24 hours upon prosecutors’ request.

Daniel Milzman, a sophomore at Georgetown University, has been held at a D.C. jail since March 18 when he was charged with making the biological toxin in his sixth- floor dorm room.

Milzman is accused of obtaining precursor ingredients at area stores, including Home Depot and American Plant. Then, in his room in McCarthy Hall on the Georgetown campus, the FBI says, Milzman, wearing eye goggles and a dust mask, manufactured the deadly toxin from castor beans.

In a memorandum to the court asking that Milzman remain in pre-trial detention, prosecutors say “there is evidence indicating that his purpose in creating this poison was to use it against another person.”

Further the memorandum states that Milzman first learned about ricin in Quiz Bowl, a competitive question and answer group he founded at Georgetown, and from online sources like Wikipedia “as well as one of his favorite television shows, ‘Breaking Bad.'”

At the detention hearing in federal court, Asst. U.S. Attorney Maia Miller and defense lawyer Danny Onorato battled over whether Milzman was a danger to the community.

“He made a substance than can kill people and he made it in a public dorm room,” Miller told federal Magistrate John Facciola.

Miller argued that it was “ambiguous” what Milzman planned to do with the ricin – make a suicide attempt or attack another student.

“He intended to cause harm in the worst way, to himself or someone else,” she argued.

Defense lawyer Onorato countered that Milzman intended to make a suicide attempt with the ricin and had no intention of harming anyone else.

“He was a scared 19-year-old,” Onorato told the judge. “This was a cry for help.”

Before the Tuesday afternoon hearing, federal prosecutors filed a memorandum asking the teenager be held without bond in pre-trial detention.

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, saying it’s unknown what Milzman planned to do with the ricin — whether he planned to commit suicide or hurt someone else.

In its memorandum to the court, the government says Milzman’s alleged actions “are extremely serious, reckless, and dangerous. Put simply they were potentially lethal.”

The memorandum further states that when Milzman showed a Georgetown University resident adviser the gray powdery substance doubled wrapped in plastic bags March 17, Milzman told the adviser that he was “definitely a threat to someone.”

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