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Prosecution or persecution?

   When Steven Kurtz's wife Hope died of heart failure in their Allentown home in May 2004, he had no time to mourn.

   FBI agents, called in by Buffalo Police who responded to the 911 call, soon blocked off Kurtz's street and donned protective suits as  they spent almost nine hours searching the home.

   They found windows covered with tin foil and petri dishes growing bacteria cultures. Kurtz, an art professor at the University at Buffalo, explained the bacteria were harmless and were part of the couple's artwork.

   Three years after 9/11, it was understandable that officials should get alarmed. But after tests showed there was no public risk, the case did not die.

   Instead, federal prosecutors indicted Kurtz on mail fraud and wire fraud charges, felonies. His fellow academics raised hell and $250,000 to fight the charges.

   Monday, the case appeared over. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said the facts did not fit the indictment and dismissed the charges. A co-defendent, a very ill Robert Ferrell, a genetics researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, took a misdemeanor plea in February for selling Kurtz the bacteria, and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation.

   Did the government go too far by continuing to prosecute Kurtz and Ferrell?

  --- Michael Beebe and Dan Herbeck

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Crime & Courts
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