Prosecutors Seek to Extend Weston’s Forced Medication

Posted October 1, 2003 at 6:31pm

Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they will seek another extension of the court order requiring the forced medication of alleged Capitol Police shooter Russell Weston Jr., in the hope that he could soon be tried in a new competency hearing.

Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, is charged in the July 1998 shootings that killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson.

Declared incompetent to stand trial in 1999, Weston has been forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic drugs since 2002. Weston appeared in court Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan for a supplementary evidentiary hearing, one of several held in the past year to evaluate Weston’s progress on the medication.

This was the first time since August 2002 he appeared in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. Sullivan had ordered earlier hearings at the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C., where Weston is housed, to minimize any possible impact on his treatment.

The current order expires Nov. 19, and the U.S. attorney’s office will request a six-month extension based on the testimony of forensic psychiatrist Sally Johnson, who works with Weston in Butner. Johnson said her evaluation of Weston is that he is “improving overall.”

“He is not currently competent to stand trial but my opinion remains that his competence can be restored in the foreseeable future,” Johnson testified. In response to a later question, she added: “Given the extent of the improvement we’ve seen, I think six months is a reasonable estimate.”

More than two dozen Capitol Police recruits and other officers, as well as Chestnut’s widow, Wen-Ling, gathered in the courtroom.

During a break in the hearing Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said it appears the proceedings are in the “home stretch” of a possible trial. Although he has been indicted, Weston has never been tried in the 1998 shootings.

“It’s getting more and more positive that we’re going to trial,” Gainer said. The recruits, all in full uniform, are asked to attend the hearing to learn the history of the department as well as provide support for the Chestnut and Gibson families, Gainer explained.

In recent months Butner officials have sought to conduct additional psychological testing of Weston, to further gauge the improvement or deterioration of his mental condition.

Although Weston initially agreed to the tests, Johnson testified, he has since declined to take part. “He did comprehend the nature of the psychological testing,” she said.

There could be a variety of reasons behind Weston’s refusal to cooperate, Johnson explained during cross-examination by federal public defender A.J. Kramer, who represents Weston. Among those possibilities: Weston could still be delusional and believe there is an ulterior motive behind the testing; he is simply being uncooperative; or he understands the tests but believes it is in his best interest not to participate.

“As a patient becomes more well … sometimes they have a little better ability to make an appraisal of their situation … and that’s one of the possibilities with Mr. Weston,” she explained.

Additionally, Johnson testified, since the most recent hearing in June Weston has become more adamant about not discussing his previous behavior and delusional beliefs and has refused to speak directly to her about those beliefs.

“This is slow work. There is a continuing need to engender his trust in my evaluation process,” Johnson said.

In 1999, Weston told defense psychiatrist Phillip Resnick about the “ruby satellite system” he believed to be located in the Capitol. Weston has said he planned to use the satellite system as a transporter to travel to a time when he is “no longer deceased.”

During the hearing, Kramer said Weston has also claimed to be a graduate of Harvard University and dean of both its law and medical schools. Weston has likewise theorized that he is a law enforcement official and the Butner staff, including Johnson, are escaped federal prisoners.

Johnson also reviewed Weston’s daily schedule and activities, such as physical therapy, reading, watching television and, since mid-July, attendance at a “competency restoration group.”

“He seems motivated to go,” Johnson said of his participation in the group.

Weston, who has difficulty walking and often uses a wheelchair, sat with his arms crossed across his chest throughout much of the hearing. In response to a half-dozen or so questions put directly to him by Sullivan, Weston said only, “I have no comment.”

Kramer noted that throughout monthly progress reports, several Butner staff members, including Weston’s primary nurse, often note that he declines to talk and uses similar phrases, such as “I have no comment on the advice of my attorney” or “I refuse to answer based on my Miranda rights.”

When asked by Sullivan whether Weston understands the court process, the charges against him and that he could face the death penalty if convicted at a trial, Johnson confirmed that he does.

“He does know what happens if his competence is restored and what happens at trial,” she said.

Butner officials will make another attempt to conduct psychological tests on Weston in mid-October, when Kramer plans to visit the North Carolina facility.

Sullivan approved a temporary extension of the court order to Dec. 8, when the next hearing is scheduled to take place.