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Witness in Gerber poisoning case surfaces

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police in California on Thursday questioned a man wanted in connection with spiking two jars of baby food with the deadly poison ricin.

Accompanied by his lawyer, Charles Dewey Cage, 47, presented himself to Irvine, Calif., police Thursday afternoon, about 24 hours after police identified him as a ”person of interest” in the case.

Police on Wednesday warned Southern California parents to check the safety seals on Gerber baby food after two jars of the company’s Banana Yogurt Dessert tested positive for traces of ricin.

Tests conducted at a Food and Drug Administration laboratory showed that the ricin found in the jars was not highly concentrated but a less toxic form that would not likely have been fatal, police said.

Ricin is the mash left over from making castor oil from castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In its highly purified form, a tiny quantity of ricin — the size of a pin’s head — can kill an adult, the CDC said.

Same store three weeks apart
Both jars were purchased at the same Ralphs grocery store in Irvine about three weeks apart in May and June. The two babies who ate the food suffered no ill effects, police said.

Police gave few details about Cage at a Wednesday news conference, saying only that he could have details about the crimes. A relative told a local newspaper that Cage was on parole from prison and had worked at a Ralphs store.

Irvine police Lt. Jeff Love said on Thursday that Cage came to talk to police and district attorney investigators “as a witness.”

Subject denies involvement
“He is not in custody. He is here as a witness now,” Love said. Love would not disclose whether police planned to arrest Cage, who told a local TV news crew “I didn’t do it,” as he walked into the police station at about 3:30 p.m. PDT (6:30 p.m. EDT).

The Gerber Products Co. said Wednesday that it has removed all jars of Banana Yogurt Dessert from store shelves in Southern California as a precaution. Gerber said it had been told by police that the tampering did not occur at its facilities and that the company was not a target.

The parents who served their children the tainted food told police that they discovered plastic-wrapped notes inside the food, warning them that it was poisoned, police said.

The notes also named an Irvine police officer and featured similar wording, police said. Neither of the families was related to the officer, police said.

Gerber is a unit of pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG.