One of the frustrations of trying to follow stories about poisons from plants is that the media has a tendency to lose interest if a story either drags on too long or turns out not to be as exciting as first thought. And, of course, there’s a reluctance to admit that a story was over-hyped initially.
It is well-known, for example, that banner headlines screaming about, say, ‘Teenager dies from drug overdose at party’ tend to be followed, sometime later, with a small paragraph saying ‘Inquest finds teenager had undiagnosed heart condition’.
But, even a small report may not appear to give the conclusion of a story. I was following reports of a murder trial involve strychnine from Strychnos nux-vomica, the poison nut tree, when it was adjourned for several months but I have not seen any reports of its resumption.
It seems to happen a lot with ricin, the toxin found in Ricinus communis, castor oil plant. There have been two examples recently. In the first, the media seems to have lost interest and in the second, though still widely reported, a plea bargain means that the full story will not be presented in court.
The first concerns a man accused by the FBI of having ricin in his freezer. In October, the Cleveland ‘Plain Dealer’ reported that he was challenging the accuracy of the FBI’s tests with a view to having that evidence struck out. Though the news story says the hearing was expected to last only a couple of days, I haven’t been able to find anything further about it and a request to the journalist who wrote the story has gone unanswered. One possible outcome would be that the court found the tests to be unreliable and the prosecution was dropped. I can see that this might not be seen as worth reporting by the local papers but I’d love to know what happened.
The plea bargain guilty plea comes in the case of Shannon Richardson accused of sending ricin laced letters to President Obama and others. This end to the trial means that no evidence will be presented. As I noted when I wrote about the letter Saturday 1st June 2013 sent to Mayor Bloomberg the picture in the news report shows that the letter was smeared with crushed castor bean rather than containing pure powdered ricin.
Because there will be no examination in court of the difference between the two or the potential effects of the letters, the case will remain, in the public mind, as another ‘ricin letters’ case and the myths about ricin will be reinforced.
But here’s a ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ video about Ricinus communis aimed at being rational about the truth of this plant.
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