Therapists to Evaluate Suspect
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 1998; Page C05
Attorneys for alleged Capitol gunman Russell Eugene Weston Jr. have won court approval to have him meet with a psychiatrist and psychologist at D.C. General Hospital, where he is recovering from bullet wounds.
The meetings, which sources said have not yet taken place, are the first clear indication that Weston's attorneys are exploring an insanity defense. Weston, who once was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, has been charged in U.S. District Court with murder in last week's shooting deaths of U.S. Capitol Police officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson.
If convicted, Weston would face a possible death penalty.
Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson issued an order Tuesday clearing the way for Weston to meet with clinical psychologist Bronson Levin and psychiatrist Susan Fiester, both of whom have worked on insanity cases. The judge also permitted defense attorneys to videotape the interviews.
The court orders, made public yesterday, were required because Weston is being kept under tight security at the hospital, shackled to his bed. Hospital officials were reluctant to permit the visits without the court's approval.
Robinson has been very cautious in her handling of the case this week, summoning lawyers to her courtroom three times for updates on Weston's condition. Although Weston continues to recover from bullet wounds to the abdomen, arms and legs, defense attorneys said he is not well enough to appear in court.
At a hearing yesterday, A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender who represents Weston, suggested that Weston's arraignment be scheduled for mid-August. Prosecutors agreed to the delay. But Robinson, wanting to ensure that Weston's rights are protected, asked Kramer to submit a brief to her by Monday that will more fully detail Weston's medical prognosis and reasons for the wait.
Yesterday's 10-minute hearing took place moments after the funeral procession for Gibson made its way past the federal courthouse. Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment as they left the building.
Both of the mental health professionals recruited by the defense have experience in high-profile cases. Levin testified as a defense witness in the case of Chander "Bobby" Matta, who was convicted in 1991 of the slayings of three prostitutes in his North Arlington home. Fiester was a defense witness in the 1994 trial of Lorena Bobbitt, the Prince William County woman who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in an attack on her then husband.
According to his parents and other family members, Weston, 41, has struggled for most of the past two decades with mental illness. In court documents, FBI agents said he has harbored irrational fears about the government for years. Authorities have seized items from his cabin in Montana and his parents' home in Illinois in hopes of learning more about what allegedly motivated him in the Capitol shootings.
His mental condition could emerge as an issue within the next few weeks, if the defense raises questions about his competency to stand trial. That would lead to mental health examinations to determine if Weston can understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and aid his attorneys.
If Weston is deemed able to stand trial, the defense still could raise an insanity claim at trial.
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