Daniel Milzman, the Georgetown sophomore accused of manufacturing and possessing ricin in his McCarthy Hall dorm room, was ordered released pending trial today by Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola.
The U.S. government, which is prosecuting the case, however, requested to appeal within the next 24 hours, at which point Chief Judge Richard Roberts will decide the status of Milzman’s incarceration. Until Roberts reaches a decision, Milzman will remain in custody.
In ordering Milzman’s release, Facciola would require the 19-year-old to spend two weeks in an in-patient psychiatric program at Sibley Memorial Hospital before returning to his parents’ home in Bethesda, Md., where he would not be allowed to remain in the house alone.
Facciola made his decision after listening to Milzman’s attorney, Danny Onorato, who argued that in making the ricin, Milzman only attempted to harm himself and that he is not a danger to others. Onorato, a former assistant U.S. attorney and a partner at Schertler & Onorato, cited a history of depression and suicidal tendencies, which he said Milzman has struggled with since he was 15, and claimed that Milzman intended to commit suicide using the ricin — a method that would not clearly convey the cause of death, mimicking the symptoms of a virus — so that his family would not know he had taken his own life.
The prosecution, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maia Miller, argued that Milzman should be detained because the substance he produced was lethal, and he had said to resident adviser Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) that he was planning to use the toxin on “someone.”
Miller cited details of Milzman’s process — the fact that he wore goggles and a mask while making the ricin, that he paid for the necessary materials in cash and that he disposed of the remnants of the process in a dumpster far from McCarthy Hall — as evidence that he may not have intended to use the substance on himself. She said he “intended to cause harm in the worst way,” whether to himself or to someone else.
The judge interrupted Miller’s suggestion that Milzman’s use of goggles and a mask indicated he did not intend to commit suicide to say, “You can’t kill yourself until it’s done,” and Onorato also refuted that claim by emphasizing that Milzman’s actions indicated he took pains to ensure his parents would not know he had made ricin, and therefore would not know he had committed suicide.
Miller also read from Facebook messages between Milzman and another Georgetown student sent earlier this year in which Milzman threatened the undergraduate, telling him, “You would be more useful to the world if you were chemically dis-incorporated and the elements that composed your body were sent to laboratories.” Milzman and the other student met with university officials regarding the messages earlier this year, and both received “stay away no contact orders” against the other.
Onorato acknowledged the troubling nature of the Facebook messages, but emphasized that the feud involved both parties, and said that Milzman did not start the exchange.
The detention hearing took place at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday afternoon. The courtroom was near capacity, with approximately 70 people present, including 17 students from both Georgetown and Walt Whitman High School, which Milzman graduated from in 2012.
Milzman entered the courtroom shortly before 2 p.m. wearing an orange jumpsuit and accompanied by deputy U.S. marshals. His parents sat in the first row and stood at Facciola’s request to acknowledge their responsibility for Milzman upon release. Milzman’s father, Dave Milzman, is research director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, while his brother, Jesse Milzman (COL ’15), currently attends Georgetown and his other brother, Matt Milzman, is a 2013 graduate.
Since his arrest Friday, Milzman has been held in the medical unit at D.C. Jail. Between the discovery of ricin in his dorm room last Tuesday and his arrest Friday, Milzman had been in the care of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.
Even if Milzman is released, he will not be allowed to return to campus, according to university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr.
“He is not permitted to return to campus at this time. The possession or manufacturing of illegal substances are issues we take very seriously and are violations of the university’s … Code of [Student] Conduct,” Kerr wrote in an email yesterday.