Michael Marin Self-Poisons in Courtroom
July 3, 2012 --
Shortly after hearing a guilty verdict while on trial for setting fire to his Phoenix mansion in an effort to get out of his mortgage, former Wall Street trader Michael Marin shocked the courtroom by collapsing and dying in a suspected suicide. Video of Marin suggests he swallowed what media reports are speculating to be a poison pill. Within minutes of swallowing the pill, Marin goes into convulsions and later he's pronounced dead. Whatever Marin succumbed to needed little time to take full effect if the video of the courtroom drama does in fact detail the 53-year-old swallowing the poison that killed him. In this slideshow, take a look at some of the most dangerous poisons known to man.
Amatoxins The mushroom in this photo may not seem as terrifying as its nickname would imply. But a single ounce of this "death cap," which unfortunately can resemble its more edible cousins, is enough to kill a human being. Amatoxins, the poison found in this fungus, is what's behind this mushroom's deadly kick. They can severely damage liver and kidneys, and lead to coma, organ failure and more.
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Anthrax Anthrax was a bacteria that was all but off the radar thanks to decades of vaccination and sterilization programs aimed at containing infection rates. Then in 2001, anthrax became headline news when a series of attacks through the United States Postal Service killed five and sickened 17, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Anthrax spores can spread through the air and can infect a person or animal by coming into contact with a wound on the skin, by being inhaled by the host, or by being ingested in the form of tainted meat. Symptoms of anthrax infection depend on the method of exposure, but typically resemble the common flu. Inhaling anthrax is the most dangerous means of exposure and can be fatal up to 90 percent of the time.
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Botulinum Given that there are many poisons that can be lethal in small doses, pinning down the most dangerous can be considered a somewhat objective exercise. But toxicology experts all seem to agree that botulinum toxin, the same stuff that's used in Botox injections to clear up wrinkles, takes the cake. Botulinum, which causes botulism as the name implies, can cause respiratory failure, neurological damage and more at its worst. The bacteria can enter the body through open wounds or by being ingested in food.
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Cyanide If there's one toxin that has almost become a synonym for poison, it's cyanide. Cyanide can come in the form of a crystal or colorless gas that's been described as having a "bitter almond" smell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. Cyanide also happens to be everywhere: It's naturally occurring in some foods and plants. It's in cigarettes. Cyanide is used to manufacture plastics, develop photographs, remove gold from ore, and of course kill unwanted insects, among other applications. Cyanide exposure can come from inhalation, ingestion or even touch. Poisoning from cyanide can lead to convulsions, respiratory failure and death in extreme cases.
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Mercury As described by the National Institutes of Health, there are three forms of mercury that can be potentially deadly: elemental mercury, inorganic mercury and organic mercury. Elemental mercury, which is what you find in glass thermometers, older dental fillings and florescent light bulbs, is harmless to the touch, but can be fatal if inhaled. Even if the person exposed survives, poisoning can still lead to long-term or even permanent lung and brain damage. Inorganic mercury, which is used to make batteries, can be deadly when ingested, and lead to kidney damage and worse. Organic mercury, found in fish, can be inhaled or ingested, and usually only affects those exposed over the long term, except in rare cases. Symptoms can range from memory loss to blindness to seizures and more.
Ricin Derived from castor beans, ricin is a naturally occurring poison, and humans can be exposed to it in the air, food or water, according to the CDC. Although the symptoms can vary depending on the method of exposure, ricin works by preventing cells from creating proteins they need to survive. Eventually, these cells die off, which can lead to organ failure.
Sarin Unlike all of the other entries on this list so far, Sarin is a synthetic toxin manufactured as a nerve agent. As explained by the CDC, sarin was originally developed as a pesticide, but this odorless, clear gas quickly became a tool for chemical warfare. Sarin can be inhaled or exposure can come through contact with the eyes or skin. The most recent use of sarin gas was in a series of terrorist attacks in 1994 and 1995 in Matsumoto and Tokyo, Japan, respectively, causing 20 deaths and injuring some 1,600 others. Symptoms from sarin gas exposure include blurred vision, convulsions, respiratory failure and more.
Strychnine Derived from the Strychnos nux-vomica tree native to India and southeast Asia, pure strychnine comes in the form of a white, bitter powder that can be deadly when inhaled, injected or ingested. Although commonly used as a pesticide, it has also surfaced in illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, according to the CDC. Strychnine poisoning can lead to muscle spasms, respiratory failure and even brain death within 30 minutes of exposure.
Tetrodotoxin Pufferfish may not seem like particularly dastardly animals based on their appearance alone, but they harbor one of the most deadly poisons known to man. Found in the skin, liver, intestines and other organs of the pufferfish, tetrodotoxin can cause paralysis, convulsions, mental impairment and more to anyone who eats this fish, at least when it's been served improperly. Although only a handful of cases are ever reported in the United States, there are as many as 200 cases annually of tetrodotoxin poisoning in Japan, with a 50 percent mortality rate, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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An envelope sent to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and intercepted by a government mail facility on Tuesday, April 16, has tested positive for ricin, a powdery, white poison.
And today, preliminary reports indicate a letter sent to President Barack Obama also tested positive for ricin. What is this deadly substance?
Ricin is derived from a common plant, the castor bean (Ricinus communis), native to the Mediterranean and Middle East and cultivated elsewhere as an ornamental plant. It's also the source of castor oil, which has many uses in medicine, food and industry. [The 10 Most Poisonous Common Plants]
But the plant is also linked to murderous, diabolical plots worthy of a spy thriller: Ricin is a highly potent toxin that can kill a person in amounts as small as a few grains of sand.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just chewing and swallowing castor beans can cause serious injury. Ricin is easily derived from the waste made by processing castor beans.
In 1969 -- when Bulgaria was still part of the Soviet Bloc -- a political dissident named Georgi Markov defected from Bulgaria, eventually settling in London, where he campaigned vigorously against Soviet oppression.
While waiting for a bus on a London street in 1978, Markov was poked in the leg by the tip of someone's umbrella. The umbrella, it turns out, stung Markov with a tiny amount of ricin. He died shortly thereafter, and his murderer (suspected of being a Soviet agent) was never found.
Ricin kills by inhibiting protein synthesis in cells, according to the CDC. Symptoms of ricin poisoning, which can take several hours to show up, vary depending on whether the toxin was inhaled, ingested or -- as in the case of Markov -- injected.
Symptoms may include fever, difficulty breathing, fluid in the lungs, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and blood in the urine. Death can result within 72 hours; even survivors may have long-term organ failure and other health problems.
There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning.
Despite its deadly nature -- or because of it -- ricin has been investigated for medicinal uses, including cancer treatment, according to the National Terror Alert Response Network. Ricin may have the potential to target and kill cancer cells.
As a bioterrorism weapon, ricin is of limited concern to security experts, since it's better suited to small-scale attacks on individuals than large groups, the Associated Press reports. Compared with other terrorist weapons, "it is one of the least significant; it is a poison," University of Maryland bioterrorism expert Milt Leitenberg told the AP.
Nonetheless, the New York Times reported in 2011 that an al-Qaida group in Yemen was trying to acquire large amounts of castor beans to produce ricin bombs.
In 2004, ricin was found in a letter in a U.S. Capitol mailroom that served then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, CNN.com reports. Sixteen mailroom employees went through decontamination procedures; none reported any ill effects.
Other bioterrorism agents such as anthrax are of greater concern to security experts. In 2001, letters containing anthrax were sent to two members of Congress and several news organizations. In those attacks, five people died and 17 were sickened.
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