A jury quickly convicted two North Georgia men of plotting over Waffle House coffee to make ricin so they could kill Atlanta-based federal agents and judges and attack the government they hated so much.
Two weeks after they were seated and began hearing testimony, seven men and five women decided in an hour and a half that Samuel Crump, 71, and Ray Adams, 57, were guilty of conspiring to make the deadly toxin ricin and of possessing a biological toxin for use as a weapon. The jury, however, acquitted Adams of a third charge of making ricin. The two guilty verdicts could get Crump and Adams life in prison.
Crump listened to the verdict with his head in his hands and was teary-eyed when he finally looked up and whispered to his attorney. Adams, who was sometimes called Santa Claus because of his white hair and beard, did not react at all and moved only when he reached for his cane so a federal officer could escort him out of the courtroom.
They will continue to be held in jail, where they have been since their arrest Nov. 1, 2011, and will be sentenced later.
“Hopefully the judge will show mercy because of his age,” defense attorney Daniel Summer said of Crump.
The case has drawn national attention for raising the threat of domestic terrorism in an area scarred by it, for the age of the defendants accused of plotting mayhem in plain sight, and for the case’s star witness — an accused pedophile.
Attorney Ed Tolley, one of Adams’ lawyers, said it was “interesting” that the jury acquitted Adams of trying to make ricin but found him guilty of conspiring with Crump to make the poison and of gathering most of the ingredients to make it: acetone and hundreds of castor beans.
“What it boils down to is if you have castor beans you better not suggest you’re going to do anything with them. That’s the crime,” Tolley said.
The men argued that they had the beans to fight moles that were invading their yards and the plants were ornamental bushes. They also argued that the talk of making ricin and spreading it in government buildings in Atlanta, Washington and other cities and in crowds of civilians was nothing more than the boastings and musings of old men.
“When old men get together, they get carried away,” defense attorney Barry Lombardo, who represented Adams, told jurors Friday, just before they began deliberating. “You go into any Waffle House and you’ll see old men drinking coffee and talking about the government.”
The two were arrested on the same day in 2011 that federal agents arrested two other elderly men who were part of the group, members of the Militia of Georgia. Frederick Thomas, 75, and Dan Roberts, 69, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to five years in prison last August for arranging to buy guns and explosives from undercover agents.
Prosecutors said the four, who had not committed any crimes previously, would meet at the Waffle House in Toccoa — about 90 miles north of the city of Atlanta — and at each other’s homes to discuss their plans to save the country from the federal government they despised. At one gathering, each man pulled out the guns he carried just to compare.
Ricin has been used experimentally in medicine to kill cancer cells. If refined into a terrorist or warfare agent, it could be released through the air, food, or water.
Much of the case hinged on the informant who contacted federal agents in March 2010 from a jail cell in Anderson County, S.C., where he was being held on several charges, including that he molested his two step-daughters. Once he was out on bond, Joe Sims befriended the four.
Sims secretly recorded their rantings and plots against the government.
“They both hated the government and they wanted to do something about it,” federal prosecutor Bill McKinnon said in his closing argument Friday.
When they were arrested, Crump and Adams only had the beans and acetone, but they still needed “Red Devil” lye. McKinnon said agents feared they were getting close to making ricin when Adams decided to make the lye himself because the brand they wanted was no longer on the market.
Ricin was never made, defense attorneys said.
“Sure, Sammy Crump talked a good game,” said defense attorney Daniel Summer. “He ran his mouth. Who was driving things? Joe Sims. Who had the real motive to get out of trouble? Joe Sims. Who had the most to profit? Joe Sims.”
FBI agents testified that they did not promise to help Sims with his criminal charges. They agreed only to tell the judge in his South Carolina case that Sims had helped investigate suspected domestic terrorists. Eventually the molestation charge was dropped and Sims was sentenced to a year in prison and given credit for the 219 days he had spent in prison.
Prosecutors said Friday that Sims was being “considered” for the federal witness protection program.
“Maybe Sammy was mad at the government. Maybe he was mad at the president and says things,” Summer said. “But he never did it. If you don’t do it, free speech.”