A former government scientist that the FBI has labeled a "person of interest" in last year's fatal anthrax attacks said today he is innocent, and that government leaks and media scrutiny are ruining his life.
Steven Hatfill, 48, said he is a "loyal American" who had "nothing to do with the anthrax letters," and his attorney argued that his case is similar to that of Richard Jewell, who was implicated and then cleared in a bomb blast at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
‘Person of Interest’
Hatfill — who worked from 1997 to 1999 at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick, Md., and has studied biological warfare — is one of a group of scientists FBI officials have been investigating for months in the probe of the anthrax letter attacks that left five people dead and at least 13 others ill last fall. Investigators searched Hatfill's home earlier this month and in June.
He has been described by authorities as a "person of interest," not a suspect, and until now has declined to speak out in detail to the ongoing anthrax investigation.
"I am appalled at the terrible acts of biological terrorism that caused death, disease and havoc in America starting last fall, but I am just as appalled that my experience, knowledge and service relative to defending Americans against biological warfare has been turned against me in connection with the search for the anthrax killer," Hatfill said today in a lengthy, prepared statement to the media.
"I went from being someone with pride in my work, pride in my profession, to being made into the biggest criminal of the 21st century, for something I never touched," Hatfill earlier had told The Washington Post for today's editions. "What I've been trying to contribute, my work, is finished. My life is destroyed."
Pat Clawson, a spokesman for Hatfill and his attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, told ABCNEWS.com before the statement that Hatfill is a private person who was not used to dealing with the media, and the statement would be the only time he addresses the press. Hatfill took no questions after his statement, though Glasberg fielded some as Hatfill stood behind him.
Law enforcement officials told ABCNEWS that the latest search of Hatfill's property, conducted Aug. 1, followed newly uncovered information. FBI agents also searched a rental storage shed in Ocala, Fla., that had been rented by Hatfill, as well as at least one other location. The shed had also been previously searched by officials investigating the anthrax attacks.
Hatfill added that his girlfriend's home recently was searched, and alleged she was "manhandled" and "screamed at" by FBI agents.
Hatfill said he remains willing to cooperate with investigators, and that he consented to the June search in an effort to clear his name. Glasberg added Hatfill would have consented to the August search even if agents had not displayed a warrant.
"As a scientist in the field of biological warfare defense, I have never had any hesitation whatsoever in helping the anthrax investigation," Hatfill said.
Following the first search, agents said they found nothing immediately incriminating in Hatfill's apartment and storage shed.
Hatfill said he understood his background and controversial comments made him a logical subject for investigation, but he objected to government leaks and media zeal that have made him, "the currently designated fall guy."