LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Little Rock man accused of making the deadly toxin ricin will not stand trial because possession of the substance was not illegal when he was charged, a federal judge has ruled.
Alexander Joseph Jordan, 23, was scheduled for trial in June. He was indicted in March 2018 for possession of ricin without the legally required registration.
But U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. tossed out the charges on Monday because possession of ricin didn’t become illegal until July 2019.
“The government should not be allowed to prosecute the defendant for conduct that was not made illegal until after he committed the challenged acts," Moody said.
Authorities got involved with Jordan when he called 911 from his Horseshoe Loop home to report that he feared he might have accidentally ingested ricin while mixing it, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday. He wasn't hurt by the substance, which can be lethal even in small doses.
Jordan told investigators in 2018 that he was inspired to make ricin by the television series “Breaking Bad,” in which a chemistry teacher makes and sells methamphetamine.
Jordan said he found the recipe on the Internet and bought the key ingredient, castor beans, from Amazon. He said he didn’t intend to hurt anyone but that he was thinking of suicide.
In his ruling, Moody said the 2019 amendment to federal law intended to criminalize the knowing possession of unregistered ricin “at that time."
"However, from 2004 when Congress last amended (the statute) until July 25, 2019, a plain reading of the statute was to the contrary — ricin was not a select agent under the statute. There is no ambiguity.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Williams pushed back, saying Congress had intended to criminalize all unregistered possession of ricin, regardless of when the defendant was charged.
“If the language of a statute is unambiguous, the statute should be enforced as written unless there is a clear legislative intent to the contrary,” Moody said.