Victims of the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks said yesterday that they were satisfied with the investigation's outcome that pinned the blame on an Army scientist. And now, the widow of a dead photo editor says, it's time for the government to settle her lawsuit and pay up.
Victims and family members were briefed by the FBI Wednesday, about a week after scientist Bruce Ivins committed suicide before he could be charged.
"This investigation, as far as I'm concerned, is closed," Maureen Stevens said yesterday during a news conference.
Stevens' husband, Robert, was a photo editor at the Sun, a supermarket tabloid published by American Media Inc., who died after inhaling anthrax mailed to AMI's headquarters in Boca Raton.
Stevens died Oct. 5, 2001, the first of five people to be killed and 17 others to be sickened in the attacks.
"I would hope now they [the FBI] can see they were in the wrong and we've been right from the beginning," Maureen Stevens said. "I hope they will stand there and admit it was their fault and make some kind of settlement."
Stevens filed a $50 million lawsuit against the government two years after her husband's death. She claims the government was negligent because it failed to safeguard strains of the deadly anthrax bacteria at the U.S. Army disease research center at Fort Detrick.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit. Federal attorneys have fought to get the Stevens claim dismissed and are appealing a federal judge's refusal to do so. The case is on hold pending the appeal's outcome.
The FBI declared the case solved Wednesday, citing advanced DNA testing that Ivins, 62, had in his laboratory anthrax spores identical to those used in the attacks.
The scientist's odd behavior, curious mental state, suspicious e-mails and unusual work hours also convinced them they had the right man.
The Justice Department said it was confident it could have convicted Ivins, who spent his career developing anthrax vaccines and cures at the Maryland biodefense lab.
They said he was angry about criticism of his anthrax vaccine and might have released the toxin to drum up support for his drug.
Still, not everyone is convinced the case is closed. Ivins' attorney, Paul F. Kemp, has questioned the evidence, noting it only made "a good case for continuing the investigation."
"I just don't think he did it," Kemp has said.
Patrick O'Donnell, a postal sorter who was sickened by one of the contaminated anthrax letters, said he believed the government's case against Ivins was solid - even though it took him by surprise.
"I always thought it was al-Qaida, or something like that," said O'Donnell, who lives in Falls Township, Pa., and still works at the same New Jersey postal center.
Mark Cunningham, aNew York Post op-ed editor, one of three staffers there who were sickened by an anthrax-tainted letter, said he also was convinced about the government's case against Ivins.
"The case is circumstantial but compelling," Cunningham wrote in a column published on the paper's Web site yesterday. "I'm glad they're keeping the case open, to tie up loose ends, make absolutely certain he acted alone, and all the rest. But I have my closure."