updated 2/5/2007 2:59:25 PM ET 2007-02-05T19:59:25

A Nashville man pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges of possessing the deadly poison ricin along with firearms silencers and explosives under a plea deal with prosecutors to spare himself from life in prison.

Neither William Matthews nor the authorities explained why the 56-year-old had the poison.

Matthews was charged after a tip from his estranged wife led police and federal agents to search his property May 31. They found the ricin in a sealed jar, two functional pipe bombs, five gun silencers, three blasting caps and bomb-making materials.

Matthews was already in a Davidson County jail serving a nine-month sentence for violating orders of protection taken out by his wife when he was charged with ricin possession. He has remained in custody since then.

His guilty plea Monday calls for a prison term of seven years and three months when he is sentenced April 27. The ricin charge alone could have been punished by up to life in prison.

“Mr. Matthews, I think, chose this (deal) as the best of the available options,” his lawyer, public defender Sumter Camp, said after court.

Matthews, who worked at the city’s drug court before he left amid a sexual harassment investigation, testified that in the 1960s he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and received treatment then.

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