Judge Sends Weston to N.C. for Commitment Proceedings

Posted November 19, 2004 at 6:37pm

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan approved a court order Friday that will initiate civil commitment proceedings against alleged gunman Russell Weston Jr. and put criminal prosecution on hold indefinitely nearly six years after Weston’s arrest in the deaths of two Capitol Police officers.

Sullivan issued the order at the request of federal prosecutors, who acknowledged earlier in the week that Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, is still not competent to stand trial despite nearly three years of court-ordered medication.

The government’s attorneys are now seeking to have Weston, who is charged in the July 1998 shootings that killed Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, committed to a mental institution. Weston is currently housed in the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C.

While announcing his decision, Sullivan issued the defendant a stern warning, alluding to the fact that should Weston be confined, it would not prohibit the government from pursuing a criminal case at a future date.

“We’re not going to forget the government’s allegations against you,” Sullivan said. “So every time you turn around, you can think about me looking over your shoulder.”

Although the civil commitment hearing will take place in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina — under federal law, the proceedings must take place in the district in which the defendant is confined — Sullivan will retain jurisdiction over criminal proceedings in the case.

In addition, the judge’s order includes several provisions requiring officials at the hospital or other housing facility to notify the court if Weston regains competent mental status, as well as to provide the court with periodic reports.

Sullivan had also raised concerns that Weston could be transferred to a state-run facility if he is committed, and the court order directs the attorney general and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to inform the court if such a request is made.

Forensic psychiatrist Sally Johnson, who monitors Weston at Butner and is familiar with the commitment process, said a commitment hearing could be held as early as December.

In the likely outcome that Weston is sentenced to Butner or a similar medical facility, he would continue to be medicated, Johnson testified on Nov. 15, and would also be subject to court review every six to 12 months to determine if he continues to be mentally ill and whether he remains a danger to others.

Capitol Police officials, officers and members of the victims’ families attended Friday’s hearing.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, who earlier noted that a civil commitment would not provide needed closure for the families, described the judge’s decision: “It just kind of hurts to breathe today,” Gainer said. “These poor families.”