Competency Foreseen for Weston

Posted February 10, 2004 at 4:26pm

A forensic psychiatrist testified Tuesday that there is a “substantial likelihood” alleged Capitol Police shooter Russell Weston Jr. could achieve the mental competency required to stand trial within as little as three months.

Sally Johnson, a psychiatrist who monitors Weston at the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C., testified on Weston’s mental state in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. Tuesday’s hearing was the latest in an ongoing evaluation of Weston’s progress on antipsychotic medication.

Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic charged in the July 1998 shootings that killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, has been forcibly medicated under a court order since January 2002 in an attempt to make him fit to stand trial.

During the past two years, Weston has been given various drugs and is currently taking Clozaril, which Johnson once described as the “gold standard” of antipsychotic medications.

“He has continued to show positive response to the treatment,” Johnson said. Since the last status hearing in December, Johnson said Tuesday, Weston is working in Butner’s workshop, supervising the payroll of other inmates. Johnson added that there is “a substantial likelihood he will be restored” by mid-May.

The possibility exists, however, that the court order requiring Weston to continue medication could be halted as early as March.

The last court order expired Nov. 19, 2003, but has been continued while attorneys for both sides file their arguments over a six-month extension. The U.S. Attorney’s Office wants to continue the medication until May 19, and public defender A.J. Kramer has filed a motion asking Sullivan to deny the extension. A hearing on the motions is scheduled for March 11.

Weston, who has been indicted but never tried, is charged with two counts of murder of a federal officer, one count of attempted murder of a federal officer and three counts of using a firearm during a violent crime.

In order for Weston to be tried he must first be found competent to stand trial. To qualify, he would need to understand the proceedings and adequately assist in his own defense.

However, if Weston’s mental state does not improve through medication, he could eventually be involuntarily committed on a long-term basis to a secure hospital facility rather than a prison. In such a situation, he would not be found guilty of criminal responsibility.

The Tuesday status hearing — held in North Carolina and broadcast via video conference to a U.S. District courtroom audience that included the widows of both officers — also focused on Weston’s continued delusions.

According to both Johnson and Kramer, Weston continues to assert he is a law enforcement official and that Sullivan, as well as staff at Butner, are escaped federal prisoners. Additionally, Weston has claimed to be a graduate of Harvard University, holding advanced degrees from both its law and medical schools.

“He does have the capacity, despite the delusions to entertain … other ideas,” Johnson said.

In response to several direct questions from Sullivan — who asked, “Are you ready to go to trial?” — Weston responded only by stating: “I have the right to remain silent.”

The response is similar to those given by Weston at previous hearings, during which he has also cited his Miranda rights in declining to answer questions.