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Last Updated

22 Nov 2005

Source: Palm Beach Post, November 5, 2005.

Anthrax victim's widow breaks four-year silence

By Tania Valdemoro, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH Four years after the FBI launched the largest investigation in its history to unmask whoever sent anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and sickened 17 others, the widow of the nation's first anthrax-attack victim (case 5) said the federal government has kept her in the dark.

Breaking her four-year silence, Maureen Stevens said Friday that the agency has told her "pretty much nothing" and that if the FBI does find out who killed her husband, tabloid photo editor Robert Stevens, "I don't know if they will tell me."

The FBI asked to meet with her next week, although she did not know what would be discussed, Stevens said. It would be her second meeting with FBI agents since her husband's death. "I'm not expecting too much from (the meeting)," she said.

The slim redhead, originally from England, has lived "day to day" and coped with the proverbial British "stiff upper lip" since her husband's death.

Family, friends, her faith and a strong desire for justice have kept her going, she said, speaking to reporters at the West Palm Beach office of her lawyer, Richard Schuler.

Robert Stevens, also known as Bob, was a photo editor at the Sun, a tabloid owned by American Media Inc. of Boca Raton, when he opened an anthrax-tainted letter on Sept. 19, 2001. The suburban Lantana resident died Oct. 5 of anthrax inhalation. He was 63.

Twenty-one others were exposed to the deadly bacterium during the 2001 attacks, and four of them, all in the Northeast, died.

When Maureen Stevens' attorney was asked Friday if he believed there was a government coverup of the attacks and the subsequent investigation, he said he could not comment.

Debra Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI field office in Washington, could not be reached for comment despite several phone calls.

Upon the fourth anniversary of the anthrax attacks, The Washington Post reported in September the number of people working on the anthrax investigation had dropped. At the FBI, the number of agents went from 31 to 21. At the U.S. Postal Service, the number of investigating inspectors fell from 13 to nine.

Thus far, no one has been charged in the anthrax attacks. However, in August 2002, federal officials named scientist Steven Hatfill as a person of interest. Hatfill sued the federal government, alleging federal officials harassed and defamed him and later ruined his job prospects.

Maureen Stevens sued the federal government in December 2003, alleging that security lapses at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., ultimately brought her husband in contact with anthrax.

Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said he could not comment on the lawsuit or Stevens' allegation that government lawyers were preventing her from proceeding with her lawsuit through a series of legal delays.

"But the investigation is very much ongoing," Bresson said. "Certainly, we all wish it were a solved case. There have been cases in the past that took time, such as the Unabomber case, which lasted 17 years. We have to get it right when we go into a courtroom and prosecute. The facts and the law have to be on our side."

Stevens' lawsuit is now before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where a new set of judges will determine whether to dismiss it. In April, U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley refused to dismiss it.

According to Schuler, the appellate court can do one of three things: dismiss the lawsuit; send it back to Hurley to decide, which would allow Schuler to gather evidence from the anthrax investigation and proceed with the case; or send the lawsuit to the Florida Supreme Court.

Robert Stevens "never deserved this," his widow said. "I can't just sit and do nothing."