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Last Updated

22 Jan 2003

Source: The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, January 22, 2003

Bond posted in plague case

Tech professor faces curfew, university ban


A Texas Tech researcher accused of lying about missing plague bacteria was released from jail Tuesday after posting $100,000 bond.

Dr. Thomas C. Butler, 61, had been held since Jan. 15, a day after authorities say he falsely reported that 30 vials containing a bacteria that can be developed into bubonic plague were missing from his lab.

Butler later admitted to fabricating that story to hide the fact that he accidentally destroyed the samples, according to court records.

His initial claims prompted a nationwide scare and triggered a terrorism-alert response by authorities.

Federal prosecutors Tuesday withdrew a request to keep Butler jailed without bond until his trial.

"The United States is satisfied that the conditions set address the concerns of a danger to the community and the threat of flight risk," Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Baker said.

The conditions for Butler include staying off Tech property including his research lab, surrendering his passport, abiding by a curfew, submitting to electronic monitoring and putting up his home as collateral for his bond.

Butler also agreed not to handle any biological agents or contact potential witnesses in the case.

"We feel these conditions will satisfy the government's concerns, but they're not so onerous we can't live with them," said Butler's attorney, Floyd Holder.

After the hearing, Butler smiled happily as he embraced his wife and sons. He declined to comment about the case.

Butler is charged with making a false statement to a federal agent. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Holder has said his client is innocent.

Federal agents served a search warrant at Butler's home Friday. Their findings remain sealed under court order.

Butler, who is chief of the infectious diseases division of the department of internal medicine at Tech's medical school, has been involved in plague research for more than 25 years and is internationally recognized in the field.

Butler was the only person with authorized access to the bacteria, which must be registered with the International Biohazards Committee and the government.