But instead of setting Curtis free, court records show, federal officials sought to keep him in custody.
First, three days after the arrest, prosecutors asked for a psychiatric evaluation — a request usually made by defense lawyers. That could have extended his stay in federal prison by several months and allowed investigators to continue to question him.
Then, after a judge denied the request, federal prosecutors filed a motion seeking to postpone a court hearing at which they would be required to reveal the evidence they had against Curtis. That was also turned down.
“They wanted to keep Mr. Curtis in custody while they built a case,” said Hal Neilson, a former FBI agent who is Curtis’ attorney. “They knew early on he wasn’t the right guy, but they fought to hold onto him anyway.”
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford, Miss., did not respond to requests for interviews or to written questions.