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rosehips
01-05-2013, 01:26 AM
Hi all,
I have a secondary character who is a botanist and minor terrorist. He sent some kind of plant poison through the mail (this could be altered if it really doesn't work) to a government official and/or regular civilian and served time in jail for doing so.

I've been thinking castor beans or rosary peas, powdered...? But it doesn't seem all that effective since there's no way to guarantee that the intended victim would lick their fingers once the powder was on them. I remember a scene from an old movie (from the 60s, I think) where someone poisoned a woman's nightgown--just touching it would kill. Was this just a complete fiction? It was set in the 17th or 18th century, so I would guess the poison was plant-based.

Anyway, the point isn't for the poison to have worked. It's more like this guy hated his target enough to devote some of his expertise to coming up with a poison to send against them, and then he got caught.

Which brings me to my second question. How much jail time would someone do for a botched murder such as this?

Would he be able to teach ever again? I'm thinking no, but that he could offer classes through some sort of bogus organization.

Would he be barred from working with plants?

Maryn
01-05-2013, 02:01 AM
The sentence for attempted murder can be quite stiff. 15- or 25-to-life is not unreasonable, although a lawyer may be able to plead it down if the accused can offer any justification or suggestion of temporary insanity.

There are poisons which can enter through the skin. Dimethylmercury is among the most toxic and passes through latex gloves. There have been poisons on clothing and objects for hundreds of years, although I'd have to dig to learn what they used before chemical labs could create something so very lethal.

If I'm not mistaken, cyanide and nicotine poisoning can be caused through improper handling involving skin contact.

On the teaching, I'm on more solid ground. Nobody will hire a teacher convicted of attempted murder. Your character would probably have to lie about his identity, assuming the persona of someone else to get work.

The conditions of parole are for the parole board to call, I think. If they don't want him working with plants, they can specify that, but parole officers are spread thin and he could probably collect and store plants undetected.

Maryn, hoping this helps

PorterStarrByrd
01-05-2013, 02:21 AM
In writing, you can create any kind of outcome you want. Regardless of real life justice and miscarriage of justice anything can conceivably happen.

Particularly in America, we are not carefully watched, for most things. Almost any decision can be ignored until it surfaces violently again.

Change of identiy used to be fairly easy and I suppose that if you know the right people it still is. Find somebody who died young and assume his/her identity. Genealogy researchers used to be able to get copies of birth certificates easily. With one of those in hand it shouldn't be hard to get believable identity, though a passport might be out of reach.

What I am saying is ANYTHING is possible. Don't be restrained by legal limits. The type of character described in your post wouldn't be.

rosehips
01-05-2013, 02:55 AM
Thanks, Maryn and Porter. Great info and great advice! I'll be using both. :)

jclarkdawe
01-05-2013, 03:07 AM
Hi all,
I have a secondary character who is a botanist and minor terrorist.

Terrorism is a separate crime from attempted murder, and there's also a mail crime here. Three charges, and all seriously piss off US Attorneys (this would be prosecuted by the Feds, not a state).


The sentence for attempted murder can be quite stiff. 15- or 25-to-life is not unreasonable, although a lawyer may be able to plead it down if the accused can offer any justification or suggestion of temporary insanity.

For attempted murder, these numbers are reasonable. Add in the terrorism and add another 10 - 30 years on top of the 15 - 25 range. And life on the top end is very likely. This is assuming a crime after 9/11/01. Entirely different scenario applies if prior to that date.

In other words, best case scenario if tried and convinced in 2005, he wouldn't be released until 2030, and that's optimistic. To make your story work, I think you're probably going to have to tank the prosecutor and let your character walk.

When he gets released, if he ever does, he'd be on parole. And because he's a terrorist, if he were to disappear while on parole, a major alert would go out, instead of the normal minor alerts when parolees disappear.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

rosehips
01-05-2013, 08:26 AM
In other words, best case scenario if tried and convinced in 2005, he wouldn't be released until 2030, and that's optimistic. To make your story work, I think you're probably going to have to tank the prosecutor and let your character walk.

Hi Jim,
Thank you for your response! So I'm thinking I need to rework this character somehow. What I need for the story is a scientist (I picked botany to differentiate him from another character who is a microbiologist, and also because it worked in terms of what he's doing as his day job, as it were) who has done something to get himself on the Terrorist Screening Database, and has become friends with a scientist abroad (the microbiologist) who has developed a more virulent strain of some infectious disease (ebola? staph? rabies?) that he sold to a terrorist group. The microbiologist's latest side project is developing a more infectious strain of Naegleria fowleri, and the botanist will eventually bring the microbiologist in touch with a potential client.

So I figure the botanist needs to have something in his background that got him on the list, and he can't be on it by mistake or for something too vague or minimal, because he must feel he has enough in common with the microbiologist for them to become friends. Currently the botanist works as a landscaper and gives horticulture classes out of a private organization (that is pretty sketchy and wouldn't care about his background). It's through the classes that he meets the client for the microbiologist.

Any suggestions?

You mention tanking the prosecutor. I imagine if the botanist did send a poison by mail, went to trial for the attempted murder, terrorism, and use of the mail, but the case got thrown out, the FBI would probably still put him on that list, despite the mistrial...? Or if he was acquitted?

Thank you very very much in advance.

jclarkdawe
01-05-2013, 06:56 PM
Iron Mike might be able to give you a better answer as to what gets you on the terror watch list.

From what I've seen of the court cases, it seems to be rather minimal and confusing criteria. In some cases, it seems to be as little as what country you're from. In other cases, it seems to be very substantial, leading to prosecution for terrorist acts that were, at some level, being planned. And much of this is addressed in secret court hearings that are sealed from the public.

The result is a lot of confusion on the part of the defense bar as to how to defend these cases (quite a few that arise prior to an actual criminal case -- for instance, being denied boarding on an airline has triggered some of these cases).

In addition, there seems to be different levels of monitoring of people who are on the watch list. There are reports of it impacting jobs, and definitely effects security clearances. In some cases, either obvious contact is made (an FBI agent or Homeland Security agent arrives to interview you) or undercover contact is made. Wiretapping and email monitoring is definitely done. Sudden, unexplained disappearances have triggered BOLOs.

Some of these have involved innocent people, some have involved guilty people, and some have involved political beliefs that do not arise to any level of criminal activity. Despite rumors to the contrary, you can believe all you want that bin Laden was justified in attacking the WTC. What you can't do is support or assist terrorist activities. That's a hard line sometimes to see and understand.

I'd put your guy as a professor for a university, doing research. University gets a DOD contract that requires a security screening. Professor is denied clearance, and the university terminates the professor as a result. Professor's pissed, and his moderate opinions are strengthened as a result of the government's killing of his job. Don't try to explain it but let it be mysterious and unclear. (The government does not have to explain why someone is denied a security clearance.)

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

ironmikezero
01-06-2013, 12:55 AM
The criteria for inclusion in a watchlist are many, constantly evolving, and most importantly - pretty much classified. Feel free to speculate about the obvious (criminal records, dubious associations with known/suspected persons and/or groups, published works/comments that raise suspicion, etc...).

I recommend you take Jim's academia suggestion (re: failure to pass a background check for a temporary clearance to work on a govt contract); keep the reason for the failure vague and mysterious if it fits with your story. In reality, a subject isn't always told why he/she flunked the background check, of course sometimes they know, and don't need to be told...

rosehips
01-06-2013, 02:29 AM
Thank you, Mike and Jim!

benluby
01-06-2013, 04:33 AM
One other thing to remember? You'll have a lot of times where, if the perpetrator is caught dead to rights and knows it, they'll plea bargain down to a lower charge and get others dropped so that court is over and done with.
For example, since your attempted murder failed, he may actually plead it down to aggravated assault (it has actually happened before), do one or two years in prison, and then go on parole, with other charges dropped.

jclarkdawe
01-06-2013, 05:21 AM
One other thing to remember? You'll have a lot of times where, if the perpetrator is caught dead to rights and knows it, they'll plea bargain down to a lower charge and get others dropped so that court is over and done with.
For example, since your attempted murder failed, he may actually plead it down to aggravated assault (it has actually happened before), do one or two years in prison, and then go on parole, with other charges dropped.

Not likely in a possible terrorist mail poisoning. This is a big time crime. US Attorney is going to want a trial (and publicity). Once you add the word "terror" to a crime in the present environment, defense attorneys start thinking in terms of decades.

Crimes and sentencing go through periods of popularity and unpopularity. For instance, think someone convicted of being a gun to a school would receive the same sentence today that he would have a year ago?

Possessing child porn a couple of decades ago used to be no worse then regular porn and minimal sentences. Now it's hot and sentencing is in decades. Give it a couple of decades and it might go back to what it was. The crime and its effects on people hasn't changed, but the public's perception has.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe