Capitol Shooting
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  •   Slain Officers' Coffins to Lie in Capitol

        Tourists at the U.S. Capitol/
    Tourists file past the memorial for slain U.S. Capitol officers as they enter the Capitol for a tour.
    (By Shawn Thew – The Washington Post)
    By Doug Struck and Michael Grunwald
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Monday, July 27, 1998; Page A1

    The bodies of U.S. Capitol Police officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson will lie tomorrow in the majestic Rotunda of the building where they gave their lives, a farewell usually reserved for the nation's revered leaders.

    The two policemen slain Friday will lie at the Capitol Rotunda throughout the day, an unprecedented honor for the men who died defending tourists and elected representatives. The public will be admitted to pay tribute to the officers from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., except for a brief period beginning at 3 p.m. when members of the Capitol Police, the officers' families and Congress will attend a private ceremony. President Clinton and Vice President Gore also plan to attend.

    Yesterday, the private and public families shattered by the violence struggled slowly to deal with the aftermath of Friday's violence. Also yesterday, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Gary L. Abrecht offered his first public comments; authorities continued to search for clues to the suspect's possible motive; and visitors to the Capitol placed still more flowers on the steps as an expression of their grief.

    Meanwhile, Russell Eugene Weston Jr., 41, charged with killing the two officers when he burst into the Capitol on a languid Friday afternoon, was upgraded from critical condition to serious condition by officials at D.C. General Hospital.

    Weston, a drifter with unusual suspicions, barged through a metal detector Friday and allegedly executed Chestnut, 58, without warning, and then killed Gibson, 42, in a gunfight.

    Law enforcement sources said yesterday that Weston emptied his six-chamber .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol; in return, he was wounded in the torso, arms, buttocks and thigh.

    Weston is under arrest, held without bond on two federal murder charges, as he lies under heavy guard in the locked ward of the hospital. Charges against him, filed Saturday in D.C. Superior Court, likely will be transferred today to U.S. District Court. The federal court was closed on Saturday, so prosecutors secured an order in D.C. Superior Court to keep Weston in custody.

    Law enforcement sources said the prosecution team already is bracing for a possible insanity defense or claim of incompetency, as new details emerged of Weston's behavioral history, including a 1996 visit by Weston to Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in which he claimed he was a clone and President John F. Kennedy's son.

    Congress is expected to reconvene today with a tribute to the officers. Both houses are to approve the public viewing of the officers' caskets in the Rotunda, an honor until now afforded only 27 people in the nation's history. Four were unknown soldiers; all the others were presidents, generals, members of Congress or other dignitaries.

    Separate funerals for the men are set for Thursday and Friday, each including a motorcade past the Capitol.

    "My thoughts and prayers go out to the families," said Abrecht, who has met privately with the families. "They were in a great state of grief."

    The police chief said Gibson will be buried on Thursday in Lake Ridge. Chestnut, an Air Force veteran, will be interred the following day at Arlington National Cemetery.

    Abrecht said his review of the incident convinced him "our people did exactly what they should have done. They were heroic in every way." Abrecht, speaking later at a brief news conference outside the Capitol, called his two officers "fallen heroes" and said he could not comprehend how their families were dealing with their deaths with such grace.

    Abrecht recounted how, after the shootings, his own teenage daughter "came running up to me and threw her arms around me" in a scene he thought was being repeated in police families all across the nation.

    "The past few days have been an extremely trying time for the United States Capitol Police," Abrecht said. "From the expressions of sympathy which have been pouring in to our department, it is evident that our loss and feelings of sadness are being shared by the United States Congress and the American public."

    In a separate interview, Abrecht recalled that he would often "stop and chat with Chestnut; he was a wonderful, quiet professional police officer. He was steady and unruffleable." Abrecht said Chestnut had a "friendly but firm manner. He was excellent with the public."

    Jonathan L. Arden, chief medical examiner of the District, said yesterday that autopsies of the two officers Friday night showed that "neither one of them had any significant chance of being able to survive his wounds."

    "Unfortunately, there are some wounds that simply are not survivable," Arden said. He said Chestnut died of a gunshot wound to the head that penetrated the brain, and Gibson died from a wound to the abdomen with penetration of his aorta.

    It is unclear whether Chestnut ever confronted his killer. According to law enforcement sources who have watched a security camera videotape, Chestnut was standing with his back to the metal detector, writing directions for a father and son, when Weston strode through the metal detector and immediately shot Chestnut in the back of the head.

    Tourist Angela Dickerson, 24, who was escorting relatives on a Capitol tour Friday, also suffered gunshot wounds during the incident. She was discharged from the hospital Saturday.

    A note saying "No Soliciting Please!" was taped to the front door of Dickerson's family home in Chantilly yesterday. Knocks at the door and calls to the home went unanswered.

    Liz Lapham, 44, a neighbor who said she had spoken to Dickerson's father, said that he told her his daughter was "going to be okay. She's just really exhausted and resting," Lapham said. Dickerson, an interior designer, has been married for a year, Lapham said.

    "It's really a tragedy that she was where she was," Lapham said. "They're overwhelmed by it."

    Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies continued to study Weston's life, seeking to understand what may have driven a man considered a harmless nut by neighbors in Illinois and Montana to such bloodshed.

    Several hundred law enforcement officers are now working on the case in Illinois, Montana and Washington. Sources said they have executed search warrants at his parents' home in Valmeyer, Ill., and his shack in Rimini, Mont., an old mining community about 20 miles southwest of the state capital of Helena. They popped open the door to his mountain shack with a crowbar attached to a cable and sent in a remote-control robot to protect themselves from any possible booby traps. None was found.

    They also found magazines and a stack of papers with Weston's diaries and other writings in the red Chevrolet pickup truck the suspect drove from Valmeyer to Washington on Thursday night, the sources said.

    A top-ranking law enforcement source said agents searching the home of Weston's parents in Illinois were looking for writings in a sealed container that might show motive or premeditation.

    Weston had come to official notice several times. Citing state laws protecting the confidentiality of medical records, an official at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs declined to discuss the specifics of Weston's treatment at the psychiatric facility during a 53-day stay in late 1996. A court ordered what is known as an involuntary civil commitment for Weston because of repeated threats against Jefferson County law enforcement authorities stemming from a dispute he had with his elderly landlady in 1983.

    Weston was discharged from the state hospital on Dec. 2, 1996, and arrangements were made to allow him to prepare his cabin in Rimini for winter and then return to the supervision of his parents in Waterloo, Ill.

    In an interview yesterday at their home, Weston's parents said their son was diagnosed a decade ago as a paranoid schizophrenic.

    "I don't know what you can do about someone like that," a source at a federal agency said. "If the doctors thought he was okay, how can anyone else predict he'll go off?"

    Law enforcement sources also were studing the details of Weston's visit on July 29, 1996, to the Langley headquarters of the CIA.

    According to a source familiar with a memorandum on the incident, Weston drove up to the main CIA gate off Route 123 and said he had information to report. The source said Weston "rambled on for several hours" to a security officer, explaining that he was the son of Kennedy, that he had been cloned at birth, that Clinton was a clone, that everyone was a clone. He also claimed that Clinton was responsible for the Kennedy assassination because Kennedy had stolen Clinton's girlfriend, Marilyn Monroe.

    "He was clearly delusional, but he didn't make any threats," the source said. "If he had, we would have arrested him. But it was just, 'I'm a clone, Clinton's a clone, all God's children are clones.' He told a bunch of wild stories and drove off into the sunset."

    Weston, who has told his neighbors he believes the government is watching him through satellite dishes, also told the security officer he received "special presidential programming through interactive television and radio."

    Weston ended his visit by informing the officer that he would "report back in 10 or 15 years." He later sent two letters to the CIA.

    The first letter, which was typed, informed the agency that "as timing reverse becomes more aphonic," he thought he should join the CIA. The second letter, which was handwritten and sent in May, complained that someone had stolen a time device that he had invented. It was signed: "Brigidier General Russell E. Weston."

    Weston's previous actions could present difficulties for government prosecutors, who have charged him with two counts of murdering federal officers in the performance of their duties, charges that could carry the death penalty.

    If Weston's attorneys question his competency to stand trial, a judge would have to find that he understands the nature of the proceedings and can assist in his own defense before the prosecution could proceed.

    If Weston goes to trial, his attorneys might employ an insanity defense – that is, argue that he was not sane at the time of the attack and therefore did not know the wrongfulness of his actions.

    "I know that if I were Weston's lawyer, I'd be thinking about an insanity defense," one law enforcement official said. "Clearly, it looks like that's what we're up against. ... But there's a big difference between 'crazy' in the vernacular and 'crazy' in the legal sense."

    Weston's past activities and his alleged involvement in the Capitol shootings also have raised anew questions about how federal agencies determine what they consider dangerous behavior, and what they can do about it.

    The Secret Service had a routine interview with Weston in the spring of 1996, after learning about comments and letters he had written about Clinton and the federal government. But the agency classified him as a "low-level threat" and did not notify other agencies, although it did keep his name on file. The CIA source said his agency briefed the Secret Service again after Weston's visit to Langley, but neither agency took any action.

    "Obviously, this guy has problems, but lots of people have problems," one federal law enforcement source said yesterday. "Everyone has a constitutional right to be crazy."

    The CIA official also said his agency's options were limited in dealing with a delusional but non-threatening individual: "It's not unusual to have strange people show up at our gate. We treat it seriously, but there's only so much you can do if laws aren't broken."

    In their investigation of Friday's fatal gun battle, authorities have interviewed more than 80 witnesses in Washington, and believe more than 20 of them will be able to help them reconstruct the crime in court, sources said. They said authorities also plan to interview John Broder, a New York Times reporter who said he was approached by a man resembling Weston in Lafayette Square the morning of the shootings. According to the Times, the man pointed at the White House and said: "Millions of people are going to die because of the people you put in that house."

    As authorities concentrated on the official investigation of the shootings, many people seemed drawn to the scene of the crime to leave their own personal tributes.

    On the marble Capitol steps, a makeshift shrine of flowers and bouquets grew through the day, even as sightseers returned to wait in line for a tour of the Capitol.

    A child-drawn picture with the note "Peace on Earth" addressed a message to the officers: "Thank you for being there and protecting so many."

    Jeanne Gross, 68, came from Germantown with her friend Genevieve Dunbar, 74, to deliver flowers to the Capitol because "it's sad that they have to give up their lives for someone so demented. They have wives, children, left alone."

    Barbara Rackle, 55, of Gaithersburg, said, "I had to come. This is our heritage," pointing toward the American flag that whipped, in the stiff breeze, at half-staff above the Capitol. "Our liberty is so costly. Things like this do happen, but I just couldn't believe it would happen here, in our Capitol."

    Ambigapathy Ramji, a 23-year-old tourist from Geneva, said he was overwhelmed with shock when he heard of Friday's shooting and felt compelled to pay tribute to the slain officers by visiting the steps of the Capitol.

    "It's very troubling," Ramji said. "No one thought something like this could happen."

    Staff writers Ceci Connolly, Maria Elena Fernandez, Steven Gray, Nancy Lewis, Bill Miller and Linda Wheeler in Washington, Patricia Davis in Chantilly and Tom Kenworthy in Helena contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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