Eric Swanson Staff Writer email@example.com
The Ada News
An Oklahoma City man accused of plotting to poison his pregnant girlfriend and her unborn child with ricin is facing a preliminary hearing later this month. Preston H. Rhoads, a graduate of Ada High School who attended East Central University, was charged in April with two counts of solicitation of murder and two counts of attempting to kill another person, according to Oklahoma County District Court documents. A preliminary hearing on the charges is set for 1:30 p.m. June 19 in front of District Judge D. Fred Doak.
Rhoads is accused of producing ricin — a deadly poison produced with castor beans, acetone and lye — and asking a former co-worker to help poison Rhoads’ girlfriend, Shanisty Whittington.
Rhoads, 30, allegedly met with the former co-worker the night of April 9 at Rhoads’ home in Oklahoma City, according to an affidavit for his his arrest. Rhoads asked the co-worker if he was familiar with the TV show “Breaking Bad,” then showed him a vial of white powder.
Ricin played a role in several episodes of “Breaking Bad,” in which a chemistry teacher turned meth cook produces the poison to kill another character in the series.
The former co-worker asked Rhoads if the vial contained cocaine, and Rhoads said the white powder was ricin, according to the affidavit. The affidavit noted that recipes for making ricin, which can be used as a weapon in liquid or powder form, are available on the Internet.
Rhoads allegedly told the other man that he had downloaded a manual with instructions on making ricin from the Internet. He allegedly said that he wanted to hire the other man to poison Rhoads’ pregnant girlfriend and kill her unborn child.
“Preston told the CHS (confidential human source) that if Shanisty was killed in the process, he was okay with that result,” Oklahoma City Detective Keith Medley said in the affidavit.
Medley said Rhoads suggested several possible ways to carry out the plot, such as putting the ricin in a soft drink and giving it to Whittington to drink. In another scenario, Rhoads proposed sprinkling the ricin on a pizza and having the other man deliver it to Whittington.
Rhoads offered to pay the other man to pose as a pizza delivery worker, then decided not to go through with the scheme because Whittington lived with her parents, who might eat the pizza.
Rhoads also suggested shooting Whittington with a .22-caliber rifle, but he gave up on that idea because he feared that authorities could trace the gun back to him. Another proposal, which was also abandoned, involved using a rental car to run Whittington off the road.
While the other man was inside the house, he noticed three plastic containers, two metal coffee filters and a turkey baster, according to the affidavit. He told Rhoads that he did not want to participate in the plot to poison Whittington and her unborn child, and Rhoads became angry and said he should never have revealed his plans.
Following the April 9 meeting, the other man contacted the FBI in Oklahoma City to report the conversation. An FBI agent familiar with weapons of mass destruction said the items taken from Rhoads’ house were consistent with tools used to make ricin. Tests later confirmed that ricin was present in the house.
The FBI and the Oklahoma City Police Department worked together on the case, and authorities arrested Rhoads on April 17.
The federal government does not anticipate filing charges against Rhoads, said Bob Troester, executive assistant for the U.S. attorney for the western district of Oklahoma.
Rhoads’ attorney, J.W. Coyle III of Oklahoma City, did not return a call seeking comment on Friday.
Ties to Ada
Rhoads last attended ECU in the spring of 2004, when he was classified as a sophomore and was working toward a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.
Ardmore resident Ellen Satchell Roberts, an acquaintance of Rhoads who had classes with him at ECU, said she was surprised to learn that he had been charged with soliciting murder.
“I was reading a news article about someone being arrested in a murder-for-hire plot and thought there was no way it was him, so I was pretty shocked when it did turn out to be the Preston Rhoads I knew,” she said in a Facebook message to a reporter. “I didn’t know him well and haven’t kept in contact with him at all since college, but I would never have suspected something like that of him.”
Roberts said she did not know Rhoads well in college, but she described him as a nice guy who was kind of a flirt and was always making jokes.
The story took a bizarre twist in early May, when two men broke into Rhoads’ home and were possibly exposed to ricin, The Oklahoman reported in its May 8 edition.
Oklahoma City police officers found the suspects, 32-year-old Ramon Stephens and 34-year-old Kevin Phillips, removing items from Rhoads’ home after someone called to report a burglary. Police later found water bottles and a surround-sound system in their car, which had been backed into the garage.
Stephens told authorities that he did not know Rhoads.
Oklahoma County jail officials were notified about the incident and isolated Stephens and Phillips when they were taken to the jail, The Oklahoman reported. The inmates were cleared by medical staffers, and officials did not believe that they posed a threat to anyone at the jail.
Stephens and Phillips have posted bond and been released from the jail. A court date has not been set for them yet.
Ricin: A deadly poison
Ricin apparently played a key role in Oklahoma City resident Preston Rhoads’ plans to poison his pregnant girlfriend and her unborn child, according to court documents.
Wearing gas masks and hazmat suits, Oklahoma City police and FBI agents searched Rhoads’ home in late April. The authorities entered the home and took samples of a powdery substance, which later tested positive for ricin.
A poison that occurs naturally in castor beans, ricin is part of the waste material produced when the beans are processed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be made as a powder, mist or pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.
Ricin, which is extremely toxic, works by invading a person’s cells and blocking them from making the proteins they need. Starved of proteins, the cells die. The process eventually harms the entire body and may result in death.
Several factors determine whether a person will become ill after being exposed to ricin, according to the CDC. Those factors include the amount of ricin, the length of the exposure, the method — inhalation, ingestion or injection — and the purity of the ricin.
Depending on the method of exposure, as little as 500 micrograms of ricin — which would fit on the head of a pin — could kill an adult, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.