RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge on Tuesday denied alleged Capitol Hill shooter Russell Weston Jr.’s request to be released from the federal mental facility where he has lived for years, and witness testimony made it clear that he would almost certainly never stand trial.
Weston, 51, is accused of shooting to death two Capitol Police officers in 1998. But his mental state has prevented a court case from ever taking place.
Senior U.S. District Judge Earl Britt dismissed Weston’s first-ever formal request that he be discharged, ruling that Weston failed to present sufficient evidence that he no longer needed to be committed. Weston had hoped to be released from the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., near Raleigh’s Research Triangle Park.
Instead, his two witnesses testified that he suffers from severe delusions that will probably never fade.
“Sometimes there are individuals who simply do not respond to medication,” said forensic psychologist Holly Rogers, who was hand-picked by Weston to conduct an independent mental review. “I think Mr. Weston is one of those.”
Weston never talked during the hearing, which he participated in with his attorney via videoconference from the Butner facility. He also didn’t appear to react to any of the witnesses, instead staring straight ahead for the entire proceeding.
If Britt had ruled in Weston’s favor, it would have started the lengthy process for a criminal case in Washington, D.C., for the murders, only the second incident in which a Capitol police officer has been killed.
But witness testimony — and a statement from Weston’s attorney — made it clear that all involved believe it is unlikely Weston will ever get rid of his delusions.
Over the years, those delusions have included a belief that he was the dean of Harvard’s law and medical schools, and commander in chief of the military. In a 1999 interview with a psychiatrist, he said he went to Washington to reach the “ruby satellite system” located in the “great safe” of the Senate.
That “delusional system” has been “completely resistant” to six years of anti-psychotic medication, Rogers said. Weston also doesn’t believe he is sick, she said, and is puzzled at why he faces charges for his alleged actions on July 24, 1998.
On that day, Weston entered the Capitol and allegedly shot and killed Officer Jacob Chestnut. He then walked toward the office of then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), wounding Officer Douglas McMillian and tourist Angela Dickerson in the process.
Weston’s rampage was stopped when Detective John Gibson, who was tasked with protecting DeLay’s office, managed to shoot him. Gibson later died from several gunshot wounds.
Those actions stand in stark contrast to the picture painted of Weston at Tuesday’s hearing. Weston was described by Rogers and his supervisor at Butner, vocational rehabilitation specialist Randy Green, as a hard worker who helps fellow inmates and has never once been in trouble.
Weston is a clerk in the facility’s workshop, handling such responsibilities as keeping attendance and gathering information for a monthly report.
“He apparently is an excellent employee,” Rogers said. “He is self-motivated, shows up on time, doesn’t stop.”
Green said Weston interacts well with others and sometimes arrives early for work.
“I really do appreciate his effort over the years,” he said. “He really is a good worker.”
The Butner facility is the largest medical and psychiatric complex in the federal bureau of prisons.
Visibly heavier, Weston is nonetheless more mobile than in his last hearing three years ago, Rogers said, when his injuries from the Capitol shooting impaired his walking abilities and forced him to sometimes use a wheelchair.
A recent operation, however, lengthened the tendons in his left foot, allowing him to walk farther distances — a fact that could make him more able to commit dangerous acts, Rogers said.
“With increasing mobility, there would be a greater ability to act on his delusional beliefs,” she said.
Rogers also addressed the differences between her mental review and the mental review completed at Butner.
While the findings are similar, Butner officials gave Weston a much higher functionality rating of 75, while Rogers gave him a rating of 45, a difference which she guessed was due more to a typographical error than a radically different diagnosis. The Butner rating, she said, would mean that Weston only had an on-and-off condition.
“He has a pretty serious impairment,” she said. “I think everyone agrees with that.”
But Weston’s attorney, federal public defender Jane Pearce, argued that as Weston gets older, he may be able to move to another, less structured, facility.
While there is “absolutely no doubt” Weston suffers from a continuing mental illness, he has made progress, she said.
“He has worked hard to become a useful member of this institution,” Pearce said, adding that Weston may be more suited for a nursing home in the future.
Under Pearce’s questioning, however, Rogers only said that “perhaps someday” it would be possible.
But not much seems to have changed in Weston’s condition since Britt indefinitely committed him into the custody of the U.S. attorney general in August 2005. At that point, he had taken three years of court-ordered medication. He still takes it — willingly — but Rogers said Weston insists “he doesn’t know what it’s for.”
Britt left open the possibility that when Weston was older and less able, a nursing home may be considered.
“I do commend you, Mr. Weston, on making the progress you have,” he said, encouraging him to continue “that course of behavior in the future.”