Judge Orders Civil Commitment of Alleged Capitol Police Shooter Weston

Posted August 15, 2005 at 11:18am

RALEIGH, N.C. — Citing “clear and convincing” evidence that alleged Capitol Police shooter Russell Weston Jr. would be a viable threat to others if he were to be released into the community, a federal judge ordered Monday that Weston be civilly committed, effectively guaranteeing his placement in a secure hospital facility.

Under the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Earl Britt, Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, will be given into the custody of the U.S. attorney general for “care and treatment.”

The order, issued Monday, comes more than seven years after Weston entered the Capitol wielding a firearm and allegedly shot and killed both Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, as well as injuring Officer Douglas McMillian and a tourist in the building.

Although Weston has been indicted in the July 1998 crimes, he has never been tried for them. Criminal prosecution in the case was put on hold indefinitely in late 2004 after a three-year regimen of court-ordered medication failed to render him competent to stand trial.

During Monday’s hearing, forensic psychiatrist Sally Johnson testified that Weston suffers from schizophrenia that is “chronic and severe,” and recommended that he continue to be housed in an institution.

“I did feel his release would pose a danger to others and the property of others,” said Johnson, a recently retired government doctor who has monitored Weston since 1998.

In her testimony, Johnson counseled against Weston’s release for a variety of factors, including his continued delusional beliefs, many of which he has held since his arrest.

“The nature of these ideas were, in my opinion, integral to his very dangerous behavior years ago,” Johnson noted.

Johnson testified that Weston continues to harbor delusions that he is trained as both an attorney and a doctor, and that he is commander-in-chief of the military.

She also noted that Weston believes that he was “tasked with his mission in Washington” and was justified in his behavior.

Although Johnson did not discuss the issue Monday, in previous interviews with defense psychiatrist Phillip Resnick in 1999, Weston had described a “ruby satellite system” located in the “great safe” of the Senate. He alleged that he was attempting to reach it at the time he entered the Capitol in July 1998.

“Mr. Weston does feel justified in that behavior. He questions whether the charges are even real,” Johnson said.

Despite his continued delusions, Johnson said, Weston’s cognitive skills have improved significantly during his treatment at the Federal Correctional Institute in Butner, N.C., where he has been housed for several years.

While that improvement has allowed Weston to function in the general population at the prison hospital, Johnson asserted that in combination with he delusional beliefs, those skills could actually make Weston a greater threat should he be released.

“He clearly has the capacity to recruit others,” she said.

Johnson noted that Weston is employed as a clerk in the Butner facility’s workshop, a position that puts him in the shop’s highest pay grade. Among his duties, Weston is responsible for the payroll, orders supplies and orients other inmates assigned to the workshop.

In addition, Johnson noted that while Weston suffered several injuries during a shoot-out with Capitol Police officers in the July 1998 incident, he has regained his physical capacities.

Because Weston was shot in the right arm, Johnson said he has learned to use his left hand for writing and other activities, potentially enabling him to use firearms again.

“I think he could shoot a gun with his left hand should he choose to do that,” Johnson said. Weston was also shot in the left leg and, although he can walk, often elects to use a wheelchair.

Weston, who appeared via videoconference along with his attorney from the Butner institution, did not address the court Monday, although he did appear to speak with his attorney.

Although criminal prosecution in the case was suspended in November, Weston has continued to be medicated with anti-psychotic medication in the intervening months, and will likely continue to be medicated.

In an earlier hearing before the District Court for the District of Columbia, Johnson stated that Weston would continued to be monitored and would be subject to court review every six to 12 months to determine whether his mental status has changed, as well as whether he remains a danger to others.

Should the court determine that Weston has regained competency at some point in the future, the government would be allowed to pursue the criminal case against him.

In the meantime, while it is possible that Weston will remain in the Butner institution where he is now housed, federal law requires that the government seek a suitable placement in a state-run facility.

Although Special Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Fuseyamore had filed a motion seeking the release of Weston’s medical records, Britt ruled Monday that those documents may be provided only to an institution where Weston will be transferred.

During the hearing Johnson had advised that Weston should not be placed with family members, asserting that “none of them can sufficiently support him.”

While Weston’s parents support him financially — he also receives Social Security disability payments — Johnson noted that the Illinois couple are in their 70s and would be unable to care for him.

The Capitol Police responded to the decision with a statement saying: “The department has actively been following the case along with the survivors since 1998. And we look forward to the point where he has successfully completed his treatment and will stand trial to the murder charges for which he was indicted.”