Crushing Guilt

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A front-page article in Friday's L.A. Times tells the bizarre story of Ken Olsen, a Spokane computer geek who was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison under a federal terrorism law after whipping up a small batch of ricin. Olsen, who had been using castor beans to make massage oil, says he never intended to harm anyone and extracted the poison just to see if he could. "We don't have to prove that he intended to kill somebody," a federal prosecutor told the jury at his trial. "We don't have to prove he actually used it or attempted to use it. The issues that you have to decide is whether he possessed it, or made it for a non-peaceful purpose." The government argued that there is no legitimate reason to possess ricin, so it's not necessary to prove criminal intent.

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  1. The government argued that there is no legitimate reason to possess ricin, so it’s not necessary to prove criminal intent.

    So Olsen gets on the taxpayer funded bighouse for 14 years with no criminal intent? I guess you can lock him up next to the kid who exposed failures in airline safety without criminal intent.

    How many rapists and molestors will get early parole to make room for a guy with a questionable curiousity?

  2. This Ken Olsen isn’t, as far as I can tell, the one who founded Digital Equipment Corporation. The LA Times link refused a connection when I tried it, but there are some other links on the web. One story (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2001901863_ricin13e.html) says that “federal authorities said Olsen kept ricin in his desk at work, and that his intentions were more sinister.”

  3. First there were zero-tolerance drug policies, then zero-tolerance in the schools, and now zero-tolerance is creeping up to non-drug-using adults. Our freedoms are dying.

  4. possession of a biological agent with the intent to use it as a weapon.

    “We don’t have to prove that he intended to kill somebody…The issues that you have to decide is whether he possessed it, or made it for a non-peaceful purpose.”

    Little about government is more entertaining than the contradictions it perpetuates in plain sight. It seems the government has a two-pronged approach: throw the Muslims in Gitmo, then go after the oddball people who probably scare their neighbors but who would not ever be involved in a terrorist activity. Good plan. Makes me want to hop on a plane right now.

    Good thing we have that 9/11 commission. I wonder what the next one’s going to be called.

  5. The government has no business “controlling substances,” whether they be drugs or something that can be used as a weapon. Possession of something in a free society should never be a crime.

  6. Reading the article in the Detroit News, this guy was planning murder, pure and simple. No libertarian travesty here, AFAIAC.

  7. The government argued that there is no legitimate reason to possess ricin, so it’s not necessary to prove criminal intent.

    This isn’t quite right: the government didn’t “argue” that, it pointed out that fact. See 18 U.S.C. 175(b). Under the statute, the burden is on the possessor to show some justification for having the substance. This isn’t different in substance from the federal law against possessing a kilo of coke or a stack of child pornography.

  8. Does this mean the Homeland Security Corps are setting up their own paraphernalia standards ?
    Anybody seen Tommy Chong lately?

  9. “The government argued that there is no legitimate reason to possess…”

    My girlfriend has all of those “things” all over the house. Some are flowers, some are candles, some are some sort of sculpture. I think one might be a waterfall of some type. I don’t recognize at least half of them.

    They don’t do anything but take up space.

    There is no legitimate reason to possess them. Should I turn her in to the authorities?

  10. Reading the article in the Detroit News, this guy was planning murder, pure and simple.

    Which guy, Alberg or Olsen? Alberg was the nutjob; Olsen probably had a vial in his desk he showed off to the wrong coworker…”hey look what I made”…

    How did they figure that Olsen intended to use his ricin as a weapon, but Alberg did not?

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