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  •   Court Hearing in Capitol Slayings

    Russell Eugene Weston Jr. is wheeled into court by federal marshalls.
    (William J. Hennessy Jr.)

    By Bill Miller
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, September 24, 1998; Page A22

    The man accused of killing two U.S. Capitol Police officers made his first court appearance yesterday, still in a wheelchair and wearing two casts while he recovers from bullet wounds suffered in the July 24 shootout.

    Russell Eugene Weston Jr., a former mental patient from Montana, listened attentively but showed no reaction as a federal judge told him that the charges against him could carry the death penalty. When the judge asked if he understood the seriousness of the case, Weston responded, "Yes, sir."

    The hearing provided the first public look at Weston since his arrest in the attack at the U.S. Capitol, which killed longtime officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. Weston, 41, has been kept under constant police guard at D.C. General Hospital since the day of the shooting, and for weeks doctors said he was in such fragile physical condition that he could not be moved. Gibson and another officer, Douglas B. McMillan, shot Weston after he allegedly opened fire; they hit the suspect in the abdomen, arms and legs.

    Wearing an orange jail uniform, Weston was wheeled into U.S. District Court by federal marshals. He had casts on his left foot and right arm, put there after numerous surgeries to repair shattered bones. He cannot move the arm because pins are in place to keep bones together. He is unable to walk, and his lawyers said he will remain hospitalized. In the courtroom, Weston looked nothing like the smiling man pictured in his widely publicized driver's license photograph. His hair was disheveled, his eyes seemed to dart, and he appeared startled when he saw the dozen or so journalists covering the hearing.

    His parents and other family members, who have come to Washington twice since the shootings, including one trip to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the case, were not on hand yesterday. Weston sat beside public defenders A.J. Kramer and L. Barrett Boss.

    Whenever Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola asked him a question, Weston turned to Kramer before responding.

    Asked where he lives, Weston said, "Washington, D.C., hospital."

    Facciola ordered that Weston remain held without bond and set a follow-up hearing for Oct. 14. By then, prosecutors may have obtained an indictment charging him with two counts of murder of a federal law enforcement officer and other charges -- the next step in a lengthy court process. It will be up to Attorney General Janet Reno to decide whether to seek the death penalty, with input from U.S. Attorney Wilma A. Lewis and other top officials.

    Authorities have not said what Weston's motive was for the shootings. Investigators have interviewed Weston's family members and searched his pickup truck, his shack in Montana and his parents' residence in Valmeyer, Ill. Family members said he had been behaving oddly, but they could not explain why he suddenly left Valmeyer and made the 750-mile trip to the Capitol. He once was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and spent time in 1996 in a Montana mental hospital.

    Because the outcome of the case could hinge upon Weston's mental condition, prosecutors and defense lawyers have lined up seven mental health specialists to make evaluations. Some have met with Weston in recent weeks. The psychiatrists are attempting to assess the viability of an insanity defense.

    Outside the courthouse, Kramer declined to say whether Weston has expressed any thoughts about the killings.

    "It was an extremely tragic event, what happened," Kramer said. "But I'm sorry I can't comment on his feelings."

    "Physically, he's recovering, but he's still in a lot of pain," Kramer said, adding that Weston was hurting throughout the hearing. "His leg and arm are badly damaged, and he has a lot of procedures that need to be done."

    Kramer declined to say whether Weston is taking any medications. He said the defense team meets with Weston regularly and is conducting its own investigation to determine what strategy to pursue. He said defenders were examining "his life -- his whole life -- and all the facts in the case."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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