Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Spokane

Ricin maker sentenced
Spokane Valley man gets 14 years in prison

Bill Morlin
Staff writer

photo
Associated Press
Carol Olsen, left, and her daughter Amanda Olsen leave the federal courthouse in Spokane after her husband, Kenneth R. Olsen, was sentenced Tuesday. His family members asked the judge for leniency before the sentencing.

A Spokane Valley man who made the world's third deadliest poison and stored it at work was sentenced Tuesday to almost 14 years in federal prison.

Before being sentenced, Kenneth R. Olsen disputed the accusations that he intended to use the homemade ricin to harm or kill someone.

"None are true," Olsen told U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen.

It was Olsen's first public response to the charges. He didn't testify at his trial, which ended in July with convictions of possessing a chemical weapon and possessing a biological weapon.

He could have gotten up to life in prison.

His attorney, Federal Defender Tina Hunt, asked the judge for a sentence of as little as 51 months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks asked the judge to depart upward from the sentencing range of 151 to 188 months.

The judge decided on a mid-range sentence of 165 months.

"There really was no legitimate purpose" for having the poison, Nielsen said. "There were dozens and
dozens of people who had access to that area, to that airspace.

"It's a godsend none of it escaped."

The poison was found in Olsen's cubicle at Agilent Technologies in Liberty Lake.

His research into killing techniques, knockout drugs and undetectable poisons was beyond idle curiosity, the judge said.

"It was an evil intent," Nielsen said. "That amount of research supports that kind of conclusion."

The judge didn't impose a fine, but he ordered Olsen to repay Agilent $22,901 for cleanup costs.

The poison was discovered in August 2001 after a fellow employee found computer printouts about undetectable poisons. Olsen was immediately fired. He was arrested in June 2002 by the FBI after being indicted by a grand jury.

Olsen's wife, Carol, said he is the victim of an overzealous Justice Department.

She told the judge he was "condemning five other people to a prison of agony and pain," referring to herself and their children, by sending her husband to prison.

"We still believe Ken is innocent of all the charges," she told reporters as she left the U.S. Courthouse. "We are appealing."

Olsen initially was indicted on a charge of possession of a biological agent for use as a weapon. He later was indicted on a second charge of possessing a chemical weapon.

The jury found him guilty of both charges.

At sentencing, the judge said he would "conditionally dismiss" the chemical weapon conviction after Hunt and defense co-counsel John Clark argued the charges were redundant.

The conditional dismissal didn't affect the prison sentence Olsen would face, Nielsen said.

The chemical weapons conviction will be reinstated and the same sentence imposed if the biological weapons conviction is reversed on appeal, he said.

Two of Olsen's four children pleaded for leniency.

"I am asking you to overturn my father's conviction," Amanda Olsen told the judge. "I know that he is innocent."

Zane Olsen said he misses his dad. "I have to do all my shopping with women, and that is embarrassing," he told the court.

Hunt read a letter from another son, Luke Olsen, a George Washington University student. He said his family has "been victimized by our own country."

The children's statements prompted a sharp response from Hicks, who said FBI agents and prosecutors don't get any pleasure from prosecuting cases that affect families.

"The government did its job, the FBI did its job," Hicks told the court. "But somehow, it is the government's fault that we're here."

Hicks later said: "The government didn't damage his family. Mr. Olsen did the damage to his family."


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