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Capitol Suspect Still Unfit for Trial

Hospitalization Advised for Man Accused of Killing Officers

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page B07

A federal judge in Washington has determined that a schizophrenic Montana man charged with killing two U.S. Capitol Police officers in 1998 is not likely to become competent to stand trial in the foreseeable future.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan put the prosecution of Russell E. Weston Jr. on hold and recommended that authorities consider moving him from a federal prison's psychiatric facility to a federal mental hospital.

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Sullivan said he will keep the criminal charges against Weston on the books so that he can be tried for murder if he ever becomes mentally stable. The judge ordered that he be kept informed of any changes in Weston's mental state.

Weston, 47, is accused of storming the Capitol's southern entrance on July 24, 1998, and fatally shooting Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. Weston, who has a long history of delusions and schizophrenia, was arrested on Capitol grounds, bleeding from gunshot wounds he received in the ensuing fracas.

The shooting led to changes in the Capitol's security. The prosecution was stalled from the start by questions about Weston's ability to stand trial -- a debate that pitted the prosecution's quest for justice against the rights of the defendant.

The federal court's thorough and unusually lengthy review, which has extended for six years and involved regular psychiatric reports on Weston's condition, is like no other in the country, according to legal experts. In a decision that drew controversy but was affirmed on appeal, Sullivan granted the prosecution's request to forcibly medicate Weston in hopes of making him ready for trial.

Weston, who has been in custody at a federal prison in Butner, N.C., has been medicated since January 2002. The prison psychiatrist, Sally Johnson, previously expressed hope that he would become competent in the foreseeable future but changed her opinion this month.

In a ruling this week, Sullivan said that Weston has had "rigorous medical treatment" and that "extensive efforts" were made to bring the case to closure. He said he understood the desire of the officers' families and colleagues to reach a conclusion in the case.

Weston, who told doctors he came to the Capitol to save the world from cannibals, is expected to spend the next several years -- and perhaps the rest of his life -- in a mental hospital without facing criminal prosecution.

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge in North Carolina to commit him to a hospital there, arguing that Weston's delusions and paranoia make him too dangerous to move freely in the community.

Terrance W. Gainer, chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, has attended every court hearing on Weston's status since becoming chief in 2002. He said in a statement that he and his police force feel torn about the most recent decision to commit Weston as a civil mental patient but are pleased that the murder charges will stand.

"The United States Capitol Police family feels angry and frustrated, but resigned to the excruciating pain of justice delayed," Gainer said. "The hurt doesn't seem to subside and our unity with Detective Gibson's and Officer Chestnut's family will continue for generations."

A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender and Weston's attorney, called Sullivan's decision "the right course at this time" for his client. He acknowledged that it was unusual for a court to review a person's competency for six years and then keep open the indictment.

"A person is accused of shooting two officers on the Capitol grounds," Kramer said. "It was a great tragedy and a very unusual case. It was not one that was going to follow a normal course from the start."

Kramer added that Weston did not become competent after federal authorities put him on five drugs over three years, "proving just how severely mentally ill Weston is."

Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said that civil commitment is the proper course to protect the public now and that the office will prosecute Weston if he becomes competent.

"For the sake of closure for the officers' family members and colleagues, we hope that day will come," Phillips said.

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