Prosecutors Present Murder Charges; Shooting Suspect's Condition
By Gabriel Escobar and Bill Miller
Less than a mile away, at D.C. General Hospital, the suspect in the first deadly shooting at the Capitol, Russell Eugene Weston Jr., 41, was described as alert and communicative after a 45-minute session with his attorneys. Hospital officials said Weston suffered bullet wounds to the chest, arms and legs.
But Weston -- whose chances of surviving were described as 50-50 only two days earlier -- had improved yesterday and was in stable condition. He is under sedation, shackled to his bed, and will have to undergo orthopedic surgery to repair a broken leg.
Weston owes his recovery at least in part to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a surgeon who gave the suspect emergency treatment on the way to D.C. General Hospital. Frist said yesterday he reassured Weston all the way to the hospital, but he declined to discuss any exchanges they had because of the investigation. A lacerated femoral artery was the immediate medical emergency, and that is what Frist focused on. "His real risk was bleeding to death," said Frist, who also praised the trauma unit at D.C. General.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, moved another step forward with their criminal case against Weston by formally presenting charges in U.S. District Court. Weston is charged with the murder of two federal law enforcement officers, a crime that could carry the death penalty. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson delayed Weston's arraignment until his condition improves. She left open the possibility that the court hearing would take place at the hospital, saying she wanted to be kept advised on his condition. Weston remains held without bond.
The judge assigned lawyers with the federal public defender's office to represent Weston. The head of the agency, A.J. Kramer, appeared on Weston's behalf in court, along with Barry Boss, an assistant public defender. Kramer said that he and Boss spent about 45 minutes with Weston at the hospital yesterday and that Weston was able to talk. He did not reveal, either in court or afterward, what the conversation was about. "He's not in good shape," Kramer told reporters. "Mentally, I have no comment about his condition."
Kramer declined to discuss the likelihood of an insanity defense and would not comment about any possible strategies. "It's way too early," he said. He was cautious when talking about his client, refusing to say, for example, whether Weston was lucid during their talk yesterday.
In 1995, Kramer represented Francisco Martin Duran, who claimed he was insane when he opened fire on the White House in October 1994.
Law enforcement officials also continued to trace Weston's recent movements and tried to determine what might have motivated the attack. One source familiar with the investigation said Weston has made no statements to authorities. Any future contact between authorities and Weston must be cleared through his attorneys.
The FBI, Capitol Police and D.C. police, along with other agencies, are handling the investigation. The FBI's efforts -- which have included weekend searches of Weston's shack in Montana and his parents' residence in Illinois -- are being coordinated by a Washington-based team that specializes in major crimes. One of the lead FBI investigators, Armin A. Showalter, also worked on the Duran case. Duran was found guilty and sentenced to a 40-year prison term.
In Albuquerque, where he opened a national forum on the future of Social Security, President Clinton yesterday asked for a moment of silence in memory of the slain officers. And at the Capitol, the mourning of officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson extended from the floor of the Senate to the steps of the building and beyond.
The House and Senate passed resolutions yesterday honoring the two slain officers. Aside from authorizing today's viewing at the Rotunda and honoring the memory of the two men, the resolutions indicated Congress's intention to pay for the funerals and provide survivors' benefits to the widows. The resolutions also formally established the United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund for spouses and children of officers killed in the line of duty.
While the tributes for the officers by legislators and the public have been substantial, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) seemed to say that they are far short of the price paid.
"They died defending this Capitol building, this temple of law, where armed violence is a sacrilege against our democratic institutions," Lott said on the Senate floor. "So much has been said in their praise, and yet we need to say more. So much has been offered in their honor, but we still look for ways to express our admiration, our gratitude and, most of all, our sorrow."
As if to prove his point, the flowers that began appearing on the east steps Friday had, by yesterday afternoon, covered a section of the staircase. Black bunting draped the door at the House majority whip's suite, where Gibson died in the shootout, and at the headquarters of the Capitol Police. Some patrol cars had black tape over the insignia of the U.S. Capitol Police.
With no other visible marker for tourists to focus on, the growing floral tribute has come to symbolize the tragedy, and police have had to control the crowd by setting up what amounts to a viewing area.
At the first-floor Capitol Police headquarters, another, more private tribute grew by the hour. Many people have dropped off notes, and officers from other jurisdictions have left mementos. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow sent condolences.
The Capitol also was preparing for today's tribute at the Rotunda, where the two officers will be accorded an honor historically reserved for presidents and select dignitaries. The viewing will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The two hours in the afternoon are reserved for families and special guests. Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday and Friday.
The 23-year-old woman who was wounded in Friday's shooting, Angela Dickerson, was recovering from her injuries in her home in Fairfax County. "She's doing well," said her sister-in-law, Erica Dobscha. "She's up and around. We are very grateful she was not hurt critically."
Dobscha said Dickerson was struck by a bullet in the shoulder and has a second injury under her right eye. "I'm not sure exactly what that was. It could have been a piece of casing," she said.
Dickerson, the lead designer at an Ethan Allen furniture store in Springfield, was showing her husband's relatives, who live out of town, around the Capitol when the shooting started.
Dickerson's lawyer, Daniel Dorsey, said he is helping her deflect the onslaught of media requests for interviews and is explaining the legal process to her, which includes police interviews. He said Dickerson is resting now and most likely will make some kind of public statement by the end of the week. He said she has tried to be sensitive to the families of the two dead officers.
"We don't want to take any media away from the two officers who were shot," Dorsey said.
Dobscha said the family is rallying around Dickerson, who grew up in the Chantilly house where she now lives with her husband of 14 months. "The family has really not discussed the incident at great length," Dobscha said. "This is very new, and this is very emotional."
"At this point, I think it's just overwhelming," Dobscha said. "She wants her life back to normal."
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company