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Government drops charges against 2 men in anthrax case

What began with fears of an anthrax nightmare ended with apologies, forgiveness and dismissal of charges against two men accused of conspiring to possess deadly anthrax for use as a weapon.

Former suspect William Leavitt Jr. praised Monday's backpedal by prosecutors. Larry Wayne Harris was described as "elated" despite pending probation-violation charges that will return him to court Tuesday afternoon.And it was federal prosecutors who this time had some explaining to do, contending in a statement they had to act swiftly because of evidence suggesting the men intended to test vials of the deadly anthrax bacteria.

"No law enforcement official can afford to ignore such allegations," prosecutors said. "The federal government acted appropriately and responsibly, given the nature of the information it possessed."

In the defense camps, there was forgiveness.

"I don't think they overreacted," said Michael Kennedy, Harris' federal public defender.

Lamond Mills, a former U.S. attorney for Nevada who represented Leavitt, said the FBI was justified aggressively pursuing the case.

"It's over. It's done. I want to get on with my life," Leavitt, 47, told a news conference before entering the downtown federal court building.

Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O'Neale said the dismissal of the complaint was "in the best interests of justice."

Leavitt, who has no criminal record, was a free man. But Harris, 46, remained jailed on a new charge filed in Columbus, Ohio, that he violated terms of his probation for a 1995 conviction on illegally ordering bubonic plague bacteria by mail.

Leavitt apologized to everybody from his Mormon Church to the U.S. government, but insisted his actions were motivated by his desire to help others.

"It was always my desire, and has been and continues to be, to help mankind," Leavitt said.